College presidents can choose to furlough employees - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

College presidents can choose to furlough employees

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By Len Kiese - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Albany colleges are seeing two sides to the economy. Hard times lead more people to higher education so enrollment is up at Albany State University and Darton College.   However, state budget cuts mean they have to do more with less. Now the state's colleges and universities have permission to start furloughing workers.  

Thousands of people work at South Georgia colleges. Under a plan passed by the Board of Regents Tuesday, school presidents now have the authority to make all of those employees take some time off without pay to save money.

It all started with 8. "In the Fall, we were told to cut 8 percent," said Albany State University VP of Fiscal Affairs Larry Wakefield. 

That number ended up growing. "The Chancellor had enough foresight to say go ahead and cut more, I don't think we've seen the last of it," said Wakefield. It resulted in Georgia universities and colleges cutting 10-percent from their budgets. Albany State University had to find quick ways to trim.

"We've slowed down our travel. We've slowed down on operating as much as we can. We've slowed down on what was needed on equipment," said Wakefield. They've also put a hiring freeze on some vacant positions. Darton College has also had to shave off some expenses.

"We are operating as efficiently as possible," said Darton College Director of Communications and Philanthropy Krista Robitz.

Now there's another option for both schools to save even more money--employee furloughs. "According to the policy, it's going to be a maximum of ten days. The thinking is maybe it would be once a month, the worst case scenario," said Wakefield.

ASU financial leaders say they hope those days without pay won't be needed. "We would try to avoid it. It's like you need that tool in your armory in case the worst case scenario comes. We'll continue to pinch pennies on travel and those sorts of things to try to avoid it," said Wakefield.  

It would be hard to avoid it if more big cuts are ordered from up top.

"79 percent of our budget is salary and benefits so if the next cut is dramatic, then we will have to look at ways to get it out of salaries," said Wakefield.

Darton says it's an option they'll also look at only if the revenue problems worsen. "At this time, Darton is not going to implement furloughs," said Robitz. So for now, employees can breathe a sigh of relief.

"I heard our Governor say this morning on the radio that he thought maybe April was the worst and it would turn around so I'm going to give him credit for being a prognosticator and hope for the best," said Wakefield.

But in this economy, anything can change.

Before Tuesday's decision, furloughs could have been given to many of the university system's 40,000 employees but that wouldn't have applied to the one-fourth of faculty members under contract. Tuesday's vote amended those contracts so that everyone is on the same level when it comes to missing work and pay.

The state cut $238-million from Georgia's higher education system this year and an estimated $275-million for next year.

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