US economy puts 2011 budget at risk

As the University’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2011 (FY11) is prepared for submission to the Board of Trustees, some analysts are worried about its upcoming challenges.

The request will be presented to the Board of Trustees on Nov. 12. It includes provisions for all three campuses in the University of Illinois system.

The budget request tries to blend basic need with reality, said Randy Kangas, associate vice president of the University Office for Planning and Budgeting.

“We used to make eight or nine priority areas, now we’ve brought the focus to a few critical areas,” Kangas said. “Our priorities are a salary program, facility maintenance like building restoration, and strategic priorities.”

Kangas said those strategic priorities include the Petascale Computing Facility, a data center that houses a supercomputer for scientific research.

He added that he is not very confident the budget requests will be met.

“Although the state knows a budget reduction does impact the quality of our campuses, they just have more legitimate needs than the fiscal capacity to meet them,” he said.

Kangas said the U.S. economy will impact the FY11 budget.

“Some think we’re out of the recession; some disagree,” Kangas said. “Either way state revenues are continuing to decline.”

According to Mike Andrechak, associate provost in Budgets and Resource Planning at the University, $45.5 million in general revenue from Fiscal Year 2010’s budget has been replaced by federal stimulus funds, which won’t exist next year.

“Our budget looks from a state perspective like we have not changed,” Andrechak said. “However, a significant portion of the budget is at risk unless the state has the capacity to replace the stimulus funds with general revenue funds in FY11.”

If there is a cut between five and 15 percent like some speculate, it will be devastating for the College of Education, said Barbara Geissler, the college’s director of the Budget Office.

“Our spending is mainly personnel, and a cut of any size will impact our staffing,” she said.

In order to save money, Kangas said none of the three universities in the system are purchasing as many computers, allowing as much travel, or supporting as many activities as before.

The College of Education has taken many steps in anticipation of a cut, Geissler said.

“We have set up online courses to help revenue generation,” she said. “Each department has set up a planning strategy for faculty to encourage external funding like grants. Instead of refilling some open positions, we created a service from other departments to share responsibilities.”

Andrechak said the Office of the Provost has met with the leadership of each college to ask them to develop plans to protect academic quality while reducing costs. He said the support the University provides for all of its activities is less than is ideal for an institution of this quality.

“Our facilities are not as well maintained as they should be,” he said. “Students have more trouble filling their schedules than they should. But these are the inevitable and predictable consequences of the kind of budget cuts we have faced in earlier years.”

Despite the University’s attempts to maintain quality, increased class size, less class choices and availability were inevitable, Anderchak said.

Despite the budget’s looming problems, Andrechak said the University is not alone in the fiscal crisis.

“These challenges are being faced throughout the nation,” Andrechak said. “We have a very high quality student body, faculty body, and staff support. So we have very intelligent, high quality organizations. We’ll draw on the intelligence of these organizations in meeting these challenges as we move forward.”