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BSU faces $436,000 to $1.3 million budget shortfall

BEMIDJI—Bemidji State University faces a budget deficit that could be as high as $1.39 million.

Documents obtained by the Pioneer via a public data request indicate a 2019 fiscal year shortfall that ranges between $436,000 and $1.39 million, depending on enrollment and how the school pays for its share of a multi-million dollar plan to update technology infrastructure at Minnesota State's colleges and universities, plus a few other variables.

According to those documents, university staff predict they'll need to spend another $1.84 million to $2.25 million to pay for salary increases, the school's recently unveiled strategic plan and to cover an expiring scholarship donation, among other new expenses.

The school also needs to find $240,000 to pay for part of a new records system at Minnesota State. BSU staff could elect to pay for it with cash they have in reserve, rather than operating money, which would mean a smaller projected deficit next year.

The university plans to hack away at its expenses by restructuring its colleges this summer, which is expected to save about $144,000. BSU might also reduce student worker payroll by $150,000, among other measures.

An "academic reduction" would save $304,000. Staff at the Inter Faculty Organization, a union that represents Minnesota State university faculty, said the reduction might mean some professors wouldn't be replaced after they retire, others on expiring fixed-term assignments wouldn't be asked to come back and adjunct faculty may have their course loads reduced or not be asked to come back.

Union staff said they have not been notified of any retrenchment plans at BSU, which means university staff have apparently not floated any plans to layoff tenured professors.

Adding the equivalent of 20 full-time students and retaining the equivalent of eight more next year could trim the projected deficit by as much as $224,000, school staff predict.

And the Bemidji State University Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the university proper, could chip in $100,000 toward the school's strategic plan.

University administrators also plan to increase student activity fees and may hike others. Undergraduate tuition and some fees are frozen, but BSU could increase graduate student tuition, health fees, student union fees and room and board by 2 to 4 percent apiece.

Another variable is the state Legislature, where lawmakers are set to debate a $10 million supplemental funding request from Minnesota State that would give BSU another $321,000 to work with. The statewide college and university system also asked for another $21 million to help pay for the new records system.

Parallel to those discussions in St. Paul is a $1.5 billion bonding measure that would borrow that money to pay for a series of infrastructure projects at schools and other civic institutions across Minnesota. BSU hopes the Legislature will include funding for a multi-million dollar plan to replace Hagg-Sauer Hall with a smaller "academic learning center," which would save the university money on year-to-year utility and maintenance, plus render moot millions in needed maintenance at the existing building.

Gov. Mark Dayton and state legislators struck a deal last spring that sent an additional $106 million over this year and next to Minnesota State, which asked for an additional $178 million. BSU staff opted then to hike student tuition and fees as they cut $1.56 million from their operating budget.

BSU President Faith Hensrud and Vice President of Finance and Administration Karen Snorek were not available for comment at this stage of the budgeting process, said BSU spokesperson Scott Faust. The 2019 fiscal year starts July 1 of this year.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education and health for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He is a Minneapolis native and a 2009 graduate of St. John's University. Before moving to Bemidji, Bowen covered education, local politics, crime, and everything in between for the Perham Focus in Perham, Minnesota, and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis.

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