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Robert Morris U.: RMU budget cuts: Staff feels the brunt of cutbacks
[March 19, 2009]

Robert Morris U.: RMU budget cuts: Staff feels the brunt of cutbacks

(U-Wire Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) UWIRE-03/19/2009-Robert Morris U.: RMU budget cuts: Staff feels the brunt of cutbacks (C) 2008 The Sentry via UWIRE By Kevin Williams, The Sentry (Robert Morris U.) MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. --  RMU President Gregory Dell'Omo announced the university's budget for 2009-2010 at a meeting with all faculty and staff on March 6. The $89.2 million budget, which was approved by the Board of Trustees on March 5, includes an increase in tuition, a salary and employment freeze for all non-faculty staff members, spending cuts, an alteration to employee benefits packages and a reduction of 11 positions. "I come here today feeling like President Obama," said Dell'Omo to the packed International Suite in RMU's Sewall Center. "I have to try to explain the severity of the situation and deal with the reality of the situation, all while being positive." For the 2009-2010 year, undergraduate tuition will rise 3.95 percent and graduate tuition will rise four percent. Meanwhile, tuition for Adult and Continuing Education graduate and undergraduate students will rise 7.6 and 7.8 percents, respectively. In addition to tuition increases, RMU's $89.2 million budget for 2009-2010, of which $86.7 million is estimated for expenses, includes a staff hiring freeze, a 15 percent spending cut and a possible change to employee benefit packages. In October 2008, the university enacted a hiring freeze, halting the external search for candidates to fill open job positions. According to Dell'Omo, there are currently 32 permanently open positions at RMU, which according to Dell'Omo, are for the most part going to stay open. "With non-faculty positions, the first instinct is to not fill it externally," said Dell'Omo, although personnel already employed by the university are able to fill other open positions. Meanwhile, the university is taking a different stance with faculty positions. "With open faculty positions, we examine the position to see how it fits back to other things," Dell'Omo said. In addition to the 32 open positions, 11 other positions have been reduced for the 2009-2010 budget, either by combining positions or eliminating open positions altogether. Dell'Omo did not make any mention of layoffs at RMU. However, Dell'Omo cited a cost shift in employee benefits in the range of $700,000 to $800,000.

Although it has not yet been finalized, there is a possibility that the co-pays and deductibles employees pay as part of their current insurance plan with Highmark may increase. Benefit restructuring goes into effect on June 1. Meanwhile, in a move that will save the university approximately $120,000, children of staff members who attend the university will now receive only 90 percent off of tuition, rather than 100 percent, as it was until now. Also for 2009-2010, the university has frozen all salary increases for all non-faculty staff members, relieving approximately $500,000 that will be earmarked for student scholarships. While staff members will not receive pay raises or cost of living increases, faculty members, who are union members of the Faculty Federation, will continue to receive annual pay increases, as per their agreement with RMU in 2007. According to Seth Finn, professor of communications and president of the union, talks between the union and the university administration have already begun. "We are currently meeting to discuss salary possibilities for the coming year, then a team of union members will meet with the president and his team, and we will negotiate. It will be a while before anything is finalized," said Finn. "We're very willing to work with the administration." The reinstatement of staff salary increases will be open for discussion in January 2010, said Dell'Omo, pending on enrollment for the 2009-2010 year. Dell'Omo also said that $1.3 million will be spent to help pay off a $22 million infrastructure bond. The new budget also includes an increase in the university's annual reserve from $2 million to $2.5 million. "It was decided that after this year that we needed more cushion," said Dell'Omo. Dell'Omo said that this year's budget was based on enrollment estimates that were not met. "We are very tuition dependent. Such a large percentage of our revenue is from enrollment," Dell'Omo explained. Dell'Omo went on to say that because of these shortfalls, the university began the year in a financial hole. "By the third football game of the year, the university was short $3.2 million," Dell'Omo said, adding that the $2 million reserve was gone by October. Because of this, according to Dell'Omo, the university began a defensive strategy to retain funds. "It was all hands on deck," said Dell'Omo. "And we had to make a lot of cuts." As the economic situation grew worse in the fall, Dell'Omo said t hat worries then began to grow for the spring semester. "By November, we were very, very concerned about January enrollment and retention," said Dell'Omo. However, Dell'Omo said that both enrollment and retention were good for the spring 2009 semester thanks to the efforts of many employees and students. "Everybody worked to find students at [financial] risk," said Dell'Omo. "And because of it, January was stronger than we thought it would be." After all of the cuts during the fall semester, RMU posted a gain of $700,000, rather than the deficit of $3.2 it faced just months earlier. In addition to the budget cuts, Dell'Omo cited an increase in graduate as well as adult and continuing education enrollment, as well as the highest resident enrollment in university history. "Robert Morris is one of the few schools that doesn't lose money from housing," said Dell'Omo, crediting the housing increase to facility renovations and new academic programs. Meanwhile, the new initiative to provide free education for all United States veterans was not built into the budget. "We don't have a lot of alternative revenue sources," said David Jamison, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs, who added that the 2009-2010 budget was revisited several times to try to determine the best way to build the budget. "It's a much more realistic budget," said Jamison. "We're doing everything we can," said Dell'Omo.

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