Morehead State announces 5-day unpaid furlough for faculty, staff

Morehead State University President Wayne Andrews.
Morehead State University President Wayne Andrews. Herald-Leader

Morehead State University will furlough without pay all of its faculty and staff during the school’s spring break, March 21 to 25, because of current and expected economic woes, Morehead President Wayne Andrews announced Thursday.

In a campuswide email, Andrews said Morehead must cut costs by $4.5 million to erase a $2.6 million tuition shortfall and comply with Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposal to cut $1.95 million, or 4.5 percent of the state’s appropriation to the school, during the fiscal year that ends June 30.

“We have carefully examined all current-year expenditure budgets and have identified reductions to address the $2.6 million tuition revenue shortfall,” Andrews wrote. “However, addressing the $1.95 million cut in current-year state appropriation is a more significant challenge given that the cut was announced late in this fiscal year, when most of our discretionary budget resources have been spent or committed.”

Some crucial staffers will have to work during spring break and will have to schedule their furlough later, he said.

The governor’s proposed budget, which also calls for a 9 percent cut to universities over the next two years, will go through numerous changes in the House and Senate.

This week, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said the House’s version of the budget would lessen or reverse Bevin’s proposed cuts to higher education. The House is expected to release its version of the budget early next week. The final document must be completed by April 15, a deadline set by the state Constitution.

No matter what happens with the state budget, Andrews said, declining enrollment and other concerns will require additional belt-tightening and reprioritizing in the coming year.

In a phone interview Thursday, Andrews called the furlough “proactive.”

“We were faced with the unknown,” he said. He and his executive team decided that the option that would affect students the least was a furlough. “It’s preferable to doing layoffs or salary reductions.”

In the past two years, enrollment has declined about 4 percent, Andrews said, mostly because of families dealing with job losses caused by the depressed coal market in Eastern Kentucky.

That left a $2.6 million hole in expected tuition revenue. The university, which has seen its state appropriation decline $6.8 million since 2008, also faces increased fixed costs. For example, Andrews recently received a letter from the Kentucky Employees Retirement System, to which Morehead and several other regional universities belong, saying it must increase its contribution to the system by $1 million next year.

“I’m very mindful that the House is working hard to restore cuts, but I’m also mindful of the fact that the Senate will do what they do,” Andrews said. “I believe there will be cuts; what I don’t know is how much. I thought it was prudent to take advantage of this opportunity” of spring break, when not many people are on campus.

Morehead will hold a series of open forums about its budget for the upcoming fiscal year during the first week of April. An operating budget will go to the board of regents on May 13.

The proposed 9 percent cut would reduce Morehead’s budget by about $3.9 million.

“This may not be the end for us,” he said of the furlough. “Everything may be on the table: programs, staffing. My highest priority has always been to preserve and protect our most valuable asset: our people.”

Other Kentucky universities also face difficult choices. Kentucky State University President Raymond Burse initially said the proposed cuts might force that school to close, although he softened those remarks later.

“These cuts, and the additional cuts proposed, strain our ability to provide affordable access to quality academic programs, to educate students for careers and jobs so important to the advancement of our great state, and to take care of our community,” Andrews said. “Higher education is the solution, not the problem. Kentucky students, families and taxpayers deserve more — much more — not less.”

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford