Three Rivers Community College in Norwich Jacqueline Rabe Thomas /
Three Rivers Community College in Norwich Jacqueline Rabe Thomas /

The Connecticut State Colleges and Universities are in “budget crisis ” and in need of a $69 million bailout, CSCU President Mark Ojakian told the governor Monday.

The shortfall facing the sprawling system of four universities and a dozen community colleges is the result of thousands fewer students enrolling, Ojakian said. Although asked to do so, the system’s unions have also declined to provide any meaningful givebacks that would result in some saving, he said. What’s left, is to either raid the system’s budget reserves to “dangerous levels” or get a bailout from the state, Ojakian said.

“Our budgets are strained to dangerous levels, putting the financial health of CSCU in critical condition. The community colleges in particular are facing reserves near zero,” Ojakian wrote in his request for the $69 million in help. “I respectfully request that you support an appropriation in that amount to address our budget crisis… We desperately need help in building a bridge to take us beyond this troubled year.”

The state’s separate public university system, The University of Connecticut, is also facing massive deficits.  All together, UConn and CSCU are asking for $173 million in additional support for this fiscal year which ends in June 30.

The administration was not immediately able to say Monday whether help is on the way for the state’s public colleges and universities.  Gov. Ned Lamont last week recommended clearing $1.8 billion of the state’s anticipated $2 billion deficit by tapping the state’s rainy day fund.

Lamont spokesman Max Reiss referred to Lamont’s recommendation in this response Monday: “The financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is real and significant. Governor Lamont is taking seriously the economic fallout, presenting a deficit mitigation plan for state operations last week. The administration will continue to engage with all state agencies and institutions regarding their financial situations as a result of this pandemic.”

Federal funding sent to governors through the CAREs Act to help governor’s cope with the pandemic impact is almost gone, too. Lamont’s budget chief Melissa McCaw last week told reporters that the administration has spent just over 90% of that federal funding.

But that money can’t necessarily be used to help the state’s public colleges, Lamont told reporters during his daily briefing Monday.

“It’s worth remembering that the money we got from the federal government — the CAREs Act, the COVID-relief money — is specific to COVID-related expenses. So it’s not like I can just hand out that federal money for broader purposes like backing up our universities. That said, we have one of the great university systems in the country, so I am going to do what I can to provide what support I can,” Lamont said.

The four regional Connecticut State Universities seem to be facing the largest deficit — a $52.5 million shortfall. However, that system would still be left with a reserve – about the size of 12% of its annual expenses – while the community colleges would be left with enough to cover only 3% of their costs.

The employee unions aren’t being helpful, said Ojakian and his budget chief Ben Barnes.

“We have not seen a serious response from them,” said Ojakian. “We are really trying to minimize the impact on students. That’s why we are asking everyone to come to the table.”

“This year, unionized workers at CSCU received $20 million in raises as mandated by the 2017 SEBAC agreement,” Ojakian pointed out. “I am pressing for current year concessions from the CSCU unions, which cannot be implemented without agreement. Furloughs are also being considered. A single furlough day would save $1.7 million, including $146,000 from managers and executives.”

In their response to the budget problems so far, the Connecticut State University American Association of Professors  has recommended that $35.7 million set aside for the consolidation of the entire community college system be used to lessen the current shortfall.

Jacqueline was CT Mirror’s Education and Housing Reporter, and an original member of the CT Mirror staff, joining shortly before our January 2010 launch. Her awards include the best-of-show Theodore A. Driscoll Investigative Award from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists in 2019 for reporting on inadequate inmate health care, first-place for investigative reporting from the New England Newspaper and Press Association in 2020 for reporting on housing segregation, and two first-place awards from the National Education Writers Association in 2012. She was selected for a prestigious, year-long Propublica Local Reporting Network grant in 2019, exploring a range of affordable and low-income housing issues. Before joining CT Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College.

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