Education

University of Kentucky reorganization bringing 75 layoffs

The University of Kentucky will lay off up to 75 people across several departments as part of an administrative reorganization, officials announced Thursday.

The layoffs of staff members and administrators will make up $1 million out of nearly $6 million in cuts and efficiencies. The layoffs will be concentrated in administrative and academic units under Provost Tim Tracy’s office, including student affairs, undergraduate education and enrollment management. Anyone who is laid off would receive up to 90 days of pay and benefits.

In April, Tracy said the reorganization would focus on improving students’ academic success, financial stability, wellness and sense of belonging in order to meet ambitious new goals for increasing graduation rates and closing campus achievement gaps. For example, the biggest change will merge the student affairs department with the undergraduate education department.

Officials said it’s possible that some people who lose their jobs could reapply for other new positions. For example, the student psychological counseling unit will double its numbers by hiring eight more counselors.

“Job reductions are never our goal, these are people, not numbers to us,” said UK spokesman Jay Blanton. “But our board has set very aggressive goals for the institution, particularly with respect to student success and that requires a constant assessment of our resources to make sure they’re aligned with our goals.”

Sheila Brothers, a staff member on the Board of Trustees, said her “heart aches for anyone involved,” but she is convinced UK “is always looking for efficiencies to help our students do better.”

The $6 million in cuts and savings come as UK loses $12.6 million in state funding next year thanks to a 4.5 percent reduction approved by the state legislature this spring. Gov. Matt Bevin had originally proposed a 9 percent cut. The state has reduced its support of UK by $60 million since 2008.

But UK officials downplayed the importance of state cuts in their decision to reorganize.

“Every year, we look at our resources and what we want to do, and then we reallocate,” Blanton said. “The decrease in state appropriations is just one piece of that.”

To save $6 million, UK will:

▪ Stop paying for benefits of county cooperative extension agents. Currently, UK pays the salaries of about half the county agents; others are paid with county dollars, but UK has subsidized insurance for all of them. Under a plan that will be phased in over two years, counties will pick up the tab for health and other benefits, although the benefits will still be provided by UK. Eric Monday, vice president for finance and administration, said UK is currently notifying counties about this added cost.

The UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, which runs the county extension service, will cut an additional $500,000 from its operations and conduct an audit to help streamline and modernize the extension agent system.

“We will maintain our commitment to service in every county and corner of the commonwealth,” Tracy said. “However, we can and we will become more efficient and effective in the delivery of services. We will match money to mission by reducing the support the university provides Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service as we look to invest even more in student support and success.”

Tracy, too, said the university was in the process of notifying each county.

They had not, however, reached Owsley County Judge-Executive Cale Turner Thursday afternoon.

“This is absolutely mind-boggling,” Turner said upon hearing the news. “How does UK have the audacity to do this? Don’t they understand that county governments are having a terrible time with revenues?”

Owsley County can’t afford to provide insurance for county employees as it is, Turner said.

Jackson County Judge-Executive Shane Gabbard said he had not been notified either.

“We’ll have to work it in the budget, but it will be a problem,” he said.

▪ Cut $1 million from the College of Medicine. Tracy said the college will need to reduce expenses for instruction and research.

“People may teach more courses, or people may have to generate more salary from grants,” Tracy said.

▪  Cut $500,000 from Facilities Management. Monday said some facilities management departments are changing their business processes and procedures, including some “zoned coverage” of duties so that no additional costs will be needed as the institution opens academic and research facilities in the coming year. Monday said he did not expect layoffs.

These cuts are just part of the one-year budget that the Board of Trustees will approve in June. The total fiscal gap between expected revenues and costs is about $40 million. After the cuts are made, the university still needs to generate an additional $34 million from increased tuition and fees and other revenue streams. Last year, UK generated about $37 million by raising tuition 3 percent, accepted more out-of-state students who pay higher tuition rates and increasing enrollment.

Another unknown factor is whether UK will offer pay raises to faculty and staff, although officials have said it’s a priority.

Earlier this week, the College of Arts and Sciences announced it would cut 30 staff positions because of a budget shortfall that is separate from state budget cuts.

In the past few months, nearly all of Kentucky’s public universities have announced layoffs and program cuts because of the state funding loss.

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford

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