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"We will make sure each student will receive a check that he or she can use to pay the rent, to buy shoes, to pay tuition or whatever they want to do," says CCBC President Sandra Kurtinitis. says Community College of Baltimore County President Sandra Kurtinitis. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Higher education will feel O’Malley’s cuts, officials say

Educators use variety of strategies to reduce spending

A million dollars here, a million dollars there — and before you know it, state agencies have slashed enough off their budgets to reach the $410 million in total reductions called for last week by Gov. Martin O’Malley.

But the cuts, though not totally unexpected, will still be hard to swallow, state officials said. Most agencies are still combing through their budgets to find the specific expenses they will eliminate or reduce, officials said, and some are having more difficulty than others.

Higher education was hit particularly hard by this round of cuts, which O’Malley pushed through during his final days in office in order to deal with a looming budget deficit for fiscal 2015.

Altogether, funding for post-secondary education was reduced by $53.7 million for the budget year that ends June 30. That includes $40.3 million in reductions from the University System of Maryland, which includes 12 of the state’s public universities.

The magnitude of those cuts poses a hardship to the entire system, particularly during the middle of the academic year, said USM spokesman Mike Lurie.

USM Chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan and other system officials will collaborate with the presidents of each institution to determine where spending can be reduced on each campus, Lurie said. That process is ongoing, he said, so it’s too early to say which programs or offices will be affected.

“To the extent possible, [the chancellor] will leave latitude for each campus to address its budgetary reductions in the best manner,” Lurie said. “The USM will make every effort to protect the quality at its institutions and will work with the presidents to ensure that no segment or constituency bears a disproportionate share of the effect of the cuts.”

Late last year, USM institutions implemented spending and hiring freezes in anticipation of imminent budget recissions. Those actions, including suspending support for nonessential facilities projects, travel and student services, will continue.

Maryland’s two other public post-secondary institutions — Morgan State University and St. Mary’s College of Maryland — were also asked to trim their budgets. Morgan State’s funding was reduced by $2.3 million, while St. Mary’s, a small liberal arts college, was asked to trim a little more than $500,000.

Sidney Evans Jr., vice president for finance and management at Morgan State, expressed grave concern about the cuts’ impact.

“We don’t really have a cushion here at Morgan State,” he said. “If anything, we need additional investments to meet the needs of students. So these cuts are going to be very, very difficult.”

The reductions account for 2.8 percent of Morgan’s total appropriation of funds from the state. For comparison, the reductions to USM account for 3.4 percent of the system’s total appropriation.

Evans also said he doesn’t yet know which segments of the university will bear the brunt of the cuts. Determining where to reduce spending will be a “very painful process,” he said.

“We’ve recently experienced some positive progress in improving student success — in graduation rates, in retention — and we don’t want to lose that momentum,” Evans said.

Community colleges also got whacked.

Funding to the Maryland Higher Education Commission, which funds community colleges through a set formula, was reduced by $9.5 million. The majority of that cut (about $6.8 million) went to community colleges.

Montgomery College and the Community College of Baltimore County were hit particularly hard, with reductions of roughly $1.5 million and $1 million, respectively.

The cuts to community colleges are actually scale-backs of an increase that was recently built into the funding formula. For instance, CCBC was originally supposed to receive about $39 million from the state for the fiscal year; now the college is receiving about $38 million, said President Sandra Kurtinitis.

“So the recission is actually a very small percentage of the overall [$268 million] budget,” Kurtinitis said. “But I don’t want to kid you – finding a million dollars to cut is not easy.”

Kurtinitis said back in the fall, she foresaw these cuts happening now. So, CCBC started preparing. The college held off on large expenditures and only hired essential personnel. Those actions helped insulate the college from the shock, and they’ll continue, she said, adding that about 5 percent of each department’s budget is “on ice.”

Baltimore City Community College also saw its budget shrink, by $1.1 million. Funding for BCCC comes from a separate pool because it is the only community college that receives primarily state funding (as opposed to county funding).

“We recognize the overall budget climate of the state, and like everyone else, we anticipated we would have to share the sacrifice that all state agencies are making to accommodate the deficit,” said Patrick Onley, a spokesman for BCCC.

The rest of Maryland’s 16 community colleges saw budget reductions of less than $1 million.

“When times are tough, everyone helps a little, everyone hurts a little,” Kurtinitis said. “Next year will also be a tough budget year. We hope to maintain the same amount of funding as this year, but if not, we still have to do what’s expected of us.”

About Alissa Gulin

Alissa Gulin covers health care, education and general business at The Daily Record.