SOMERS — University of Wisconsin-Parkside officials here are considering staff furloughs for 2023-24 as part of a plan to address a $5.3 million structural deficit.
The university’s projected enrollment for the upcoming school year is 4,015 students, which is about the same as the previous year, but still about 500 fewer students than in 2019 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. UW-Parkside leadership expects the school’s revenues will decrease slightly but expenses will climb by 9.5% (or $8.5 million) because of travel expenses, the cost of supplies and salary increases.
In addition to furloughs, UW-Parkside leadership may address the financial shortfall by leaving vacant staff positions unfilled, placing holds on new hires and reducing overall spending throughout the campus.
The “key drivers” to the dramatic drop in UW-Parkside’s fund balances are: inflation and expense costs, higher utility costs, an historic enrollment decline and “slow enrollment recovery to pre-pandemic levels.”
Parkside’s recovery plan summary and 2023-24 budget summary were included in the materials packet for Tuesday’s University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents meeting. The board is scheduled to vote on a 2023-24 school year budget that shows deficits at 10 of the 13 UW System campuses. The collective UW System deficit was $33.4 million as of June.
In addition to UW-Parkside, budget deficits are anticipated at UW System schools in Oshkosh, Milwaukee, Eau Claire, Green Bay, Platteville, River Falls, Stevens Point, Superior, and Whitewater.
The staff furlough possibility was announced via staff emails on Monday at both UW-Parkside and UW-Platteville, the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison reported. The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh had previously announced plans for staff furloughs and a cut of 200 positions to address its own budget gap.
“Many of the System’s universities have faced dire financial straits for years, as school officials regularly point to declining enrollment, the state’s aging population and decisions by state legislators over the past decade to freeze tuition and reduce state support. UW-Platteville has especially struggled, as it’s had the largest percentage of enrollment decline of all System main campuses and was in the midst of a fiscal recovery plan prior to Monday’s announcement,” the State Journal reported.
New state budget cuts UW spending
The 2023-25 biennial state budget, signed by Gov. Tony Evers last month, took out $32 million in funding for UW System campuses. Those cuts were made by Republicans who control both houses of the Legislature.
Evers, a Democrat, had called for a $305 million increase for the UW System over the next school years.
The governor has since called a special session of the Wisconsin State Legislature for Sept. 20 to approve funding they had rejected in the state budget, including the UW System money plus spending for childcare services, a family leave program and efforts targeting the state’s worker shortages.
Republican leadership in both houses of the Legislature indicated they have no interest in taking up any of the governor’s requests. They have said that they oppose the governor’s plans because they would increase spending instead of cutting taxes.
Because they are not legally required to act in a special session, lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Legislature have simply “gaveled in-gaveled out” Evers’ previous special session calls.
Area legislators respond to Parkside deficit
Democrats, who represent parts of Racine and Kenosha counties in the Legislature, responded to the UW-Parkside budget situation via press releases on Monday.
“Today, UW-Parkside announced their need to address a $4 million budget deficit,” Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, said in a statement. “My thoughts are with every student, faculty and staff member that this difficult situation will directly affect. This is a dark day for higher education, and the reality is, it doesn’t need to be this way.
“Our higher education institutions deserve a better hand than they’ve been dealt by the GOP,” she added. “Instead of prioritizing funding for our world-class universities in the state budget, legislative Republicans failed to invest desperately needed funds, leading to deficits across the system.”
“This is a sad day. I am a proud Parkside alum, a member of the very first graduating class,” Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers, said in a statement. “Parkside allowed me to get my education while working full time, and Parkside is a leader for graduating students who are the first in their families to go to college. It’s a bargain, for traditional and non-traditional students, providing a top-notch education at a fair price, while allowing students to work, maybe live at home and save some money. Make no mistake – these cuts will hurt our community and were entirely avoidable.”
Said Rep. Tod Ohnstad, D-Kenosha: “The Republicans have attacked the UW System from almost the first day of their majority. Many of us on the other side of the aisle and in the higher education world have seen this coming and sounded the alarm. Republicans either wouldn’t listen or didn’t care. If their goal is to make a college education inaccessible for average Wisconsin families, they are well on their way.”
“UW-Parkside has long been a treasure of our community, and the continued under-investment from the state undermines the families that seek to better their life through education, as well as the businesses that need skilled workers. In a time of plenty for our state’s surplus, there is no reason why we cannot do more to strengthen the UW System,” Rep. Tip McGuire said in a statement.
Neubauer called on the majority Republicans in both houses to act on the UW System spending proposal at next month’s legislative special session.
“I’ve spoken with (UW System) President Jay Rothman, and we’re going to continue working together to minimize the impact of this difficult situation and to make sure our communities continue to have access to great educational opportunities and family-supporting jobs. This is a heartbreaking announcement, and we’re going to work hard to make it right,” she stated.
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