The specter of higher education budget shortfalls over the last couple of years has formed an ominous cloud over Colorado state colleges and universities, including Metro State. Not surprisingly, the headlines and resulting water-cooler talk began taking its toll on employees and students. Would jobs be lost? Would salaries freeze? Would some schools actually close? Would tuitions rise? There were many more questions than answers.
These concerns were not lost on the College’s leadership, particularly Vice President for Administration, Finance and Facilities Natalie Lutes, whose division has worked diligently to make sense of the numbers from every possible angle.
“Open communication has been paramount in mitigating fears in the Metro State community,” says Lutes. ”A lot of activity is taking place in the development of the FY2011-12 budgets. As information becomes available we are creating models and scenarios. This is an evolving process.”
Already Lutes’ division has spent the past year addressing budget issues and working to keep the campus community informed. Following is a summary of their main areas of focus:
Planning for a worst-case scenario
Lutes and Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs Vicki Golich co-chair the College’s Financial Exigency Committee, which has been charged with developing a plan for a "hypothetical 50 percent reduction” which was mandated in SB10-003. This response is due to the Joint Budget Committee by Nov. 10.
“We worked throughout the summer in conjunction with other campus leaders to plan for Metro State’s future in light of Colorado’s higher education funding crisis,” says Lutes. “We value the input from all shared governance groups on the budget. These budget scenarios are complex, therefore continuous communication and status updates are important.”
Higher education funding updates
Lutes and her division worked with President Stephen Jordan on a number of town hall meetings during the last legislative session to update the campus on the latest budget news and how it would impact the College. A higher education funding page was added to the president’s website, and included an e-mail email@example.com for those with suggestions and questions. Budget updates ran in This Week @Metro and Today @Metro, in addition to Special Editions.
Despite the precarious budget situation, Lutes says the College has achieved remarkable progress on key College initiatives, including securing low bond rates for the Student Success Building (scheduled for a December 2010 groundbreaking) and the Backfill Project Program Plan (currently underway). The Hotel and Hospitality Learning Center, which culminated years of effort and commitment from internal and external constituents, is in the final stages of achieving funding. “We are preparing to sell bonds for the Hotel project in early October,” she says.
Rightsizing with Technology
Also a success for the College is the Rightsizing with Technology initiative. “This year, we are beginning to see the results of this initiative, which now boasts 57 projects,” says Lutes. “We have some very good projects to help us do more with less, and really are helping our infrastructure. We need to keep in mind, though, that the funding will end." The projects are funded with federal stimulus dollars that run out on June 30, 2011.
The initiative was lauded for its creative approach in the face of a budget crisis by the Chronicle of Higher Education in its Oct. 25, 2009 issue, and then again by two Colorado State representatives in a Jan. 27 2010 opinion piece in The Denver Post
The Division of Administration, Finance and Facilities has seen a number of personnel changes over the past year. Key appointments include the positions of interim budget director, benefits manager and classified employment manager. Additionally, the search is ongoing for a new assistant director of human resources.
Also, under a recent IT restructuring at the College, a new IT position will report to Lutes. A national search for the chief technology officer/associate vice president for administrative computing will begin by early next year. Lutes says, “I realize there are mixed feelings about the shift, but over the next few months I plan to meet with IT staff, get to know them better and solicit their input as we move forward.”
As the state’s budget continues on an unknown path, Lutes says her division is always working to answer the complex question: "How do you maintain morale, manage the budget and find ways to recognize staff and employees in a non-monetary way?"
Lutes remains impressed with her team's collaborative efforts. "I’m proud of what we are accomplishing on top of day-to-day work. They have been stepping up and working with each other and other entities, internal and external. We are achieving huge successes, especially considering our budget constraints.”
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