Departments face budget cut decisions

Sam Brownback, governor of Kansas, speaks during Marco Rubio's rally in Topeka, Kansas on Mar. 4, 2016. (Austin Fuller | The Collegian)

K-State department heads face a combined 3.5 percent cut after Gov. Sam Brownback cut funding for higher education and President Kirk Schulz issued a callback on general use funding.

On March 1, Brownback announced a 3 percent cut, or $17 million, to public universities in Kansas. The cut was due to a revenue shortfall in February.

Because state funding comprises about half of K-State’s revenues, the 3 percent state funding cut equates to a 1.5 percent cut for departments.

That is in addition to an internal 2 percent callback. On Feb. 19, Schulz addressed the cuts to K-State Today announcing the callback for the remainder of fiscal year 2016. In the letter, Schulz said unit heads in each college will be asked to prepare several options for general use base reductions for fiscal year 2017.

Cindy Bontrager, vice president of administration and finance, said this has an impact on administration and finance, president and provost, and student life. She said certain units are self-supporting and receive their revenue through fees to support their funds, including the K-State Student Union, Athletics and Parking Services.

Bontrager said each department receives an allocated amount of money based on the general base budget amount, and that each unit head of those departments determines the disbursement and use of money given to them after receiving the prorated amount.

The general state budget is made of state appropriations and tuition fees, which impact teaching, student life, administration and facilities. With the budget, it is currently still flat, according to Bontrager.

“It’s important that each unit head has the autonomy to determine how best to absorb those reductions while protecting those services they provide to students, faculty and staff,” Bontrager said.

Bontrager said it is important to limit those disruptions. One way she said is how the staff is asked to think wisely, by looking for more efficient ways to perform while doing more with less.

There is more stress on faculty because of low pay compared to other peers inside the Big 12, which is factor of not receiving state funding in order to grow, she said.

The focus leads to the students, to put more effort toward their success for more students to enroll, Bontrager said.

Kenneth Odde, department head of animal sciences and industry, said the dean of the college decides how each department in the school is affected. According to Odde, there are three factors to consider: teaching, research and extension.

“We can manage the cut with minimal impacts on our program,” Odde said.

Odde said they are still continuing to teach, advise and provide expected student services, although such areas like research and extension will be impacted the most. The impact will be large if more cuts are being made, but at the moment it is still early to know how the 3 percent will impact the department, Odde said.

Other units, such as the 10 different livestock units, generate revenue to support their own programs, Odde said. Such methods include selling milk, livestock and ice cream, which is a crucial factor, he said.

“We can manage livestock with minimal impact,” Odde said.

The department has done more with less, with faculty now working with 1,214 students this year, compared to a previous number of 793 students in 2007, Odde said.

The steady rise in students has put more pressure on the faculty, becoming a big stress, Odde said. Toward the end of each semester exit interviews are done with all graduating seniors. Odde said these interviews help the faculty learn all the positives and negatives, to best see in what area improvements can be made.

Andy Hurtig, current student body president and senior in accounting, said the budget is a delicate subject due to the number of people involved. While being able to sit at the table during faculty meetings, Hurtig said it is important to take advantage of their spot there. He said it is important to talk to faculty, while also synthesizing with students so they come in pursuit of a higher degree.

Jessica Van Ranken, current SGA speaker pro tempore, president-elect and junior in political science, said during her election students voiced concerns over the budget cut. Although the 3 percent callback from the governor is still recent, she said it still puts pressure on the subject.

This new reduction calls for more money to be given back from the central campus budget, research and extension budget, and K-State budget, which has already been allocated for each college or unit, Hurtig said.

Students should be more aware of how the state legislature can affect schools, Hurtig said. Each meeting is more of an ongoing conversation he said, as there is talk over finding a balance between student tuition prices, faculty rate and good education.

“It’s a reminder that students need to be educated into what goes into providing a higher education and the role that state policies impact them,” Hurtig said.