Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Many a slip, MnSCU version 

So another biennium begins in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, and the first semester ends without the faculty having finalized a contract with the system. Some faculty walk around with buttons that indicate their salary demands (about 15% increase over the two years). Word around the campus is that if we get even remotely that amount, the schools do not have enough money to pay those salaries and so there will have to be cutbacks.

The union -- the Inter-Faculty Organization -- delves into the details and discovers one reason why the money might not be there:

At the last MnSCU Board of Trustees� meeting MnSCU officials revealed a little more detail than has been supplied in the past on how they plan to spend the $62.8 million increase in technology money this year. MnSCU is increasing expenditures on technology from $21,500,000 in FY2007 (last year) to $46,355,000 million this year�a 115% increase in one year. They are proposing an additional $4.7 million increase in system level technology expenditures next fiscal year. MnSCU currently has 140 system level technology positions, 20 of which are vacant. They are proposing to add an additional 55 new technology positions.

MnSCU received essentially block grants from the legislature of $666.8 million in FY2008 (this year) and $689.3 million in FY2009. The biennial increase in appropriations was 12.6%. The increase in appropriations this year to the MnSCU system as a whole was 10.6% The increase in appropriations sent out to the campuses by MnSCU was only 3.3%.

Faculty have complained that MnSCU is spending too much money on central office growth, particularly on system level technology, and not sending enough of the state appropriation out to the campuses, where education takes place. The amount of money MnSCU is spending on �Systemwide Set-Asides� is increasing from $58.9 million in FY2007 to $85.8 million in FY2008 (a 45.6% increase) and to $90.8 million in FY2009 (another 5.8% increase). At the last IFO Budget Committee meeting, Tom Fauchald, Budget Committee Chair, presented an analysis of the growth in state appropriations from MnSCU to the state universities as a percent of the university operating budgets. Here is the biennial growth by university:

Bemidji 2.50%
Metro 2.92%
Moorhead 2.18%
Mankato 2.71%
Southwest 1.93%
St. Cloud 2.62%
Winona 3.20%
The data is easily available by reading through the system's budget documents. While I have plenty of beefs with the union, they have exposed a very important problem in the system.

When this was discussed at the town hall in Waite Park, most of the suggestions focused on why do we have a system office, and what does it provide? Why would a system office need to suck up almost a sixth of the state's appropriation? Why do we have a huge St. Paul office with more employees than any of the colleges and universities in the system save two? Is it really more efficient and better for SCSU that it is a system board of trustees in St. Paul that hired President Potter to our campus last summer, rather than a St. Cloud board of trustees? If there was, wouldn't that board provide the resources he would need to pay the salaries he was negotiating? You certainly would not get this situation where the state appropriates 12% more money to the system, but only 3% reaches the place where the students are.

It's a strange world, this MnSCU. I got the impression that more scrutiny of this spending pattern might come from legislators. It's long overdue.

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