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UNM looks to payroll cuts for budget relief

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Staff levels keep falling at the University of New Mexico – just one way the state’s budget woes are playing out on the campus of its largest university.

With state funding continuing its downward trajectory, UNM will rely on reduced payroll to help bridge the gap.

The main campus’ “instruction and general” fund will cover an estimated 1,785 full-time equivalent staff positions in 2018. That’s down from 2,063, or 13.5 percent, from 2016.

Attrition accounted for most of the decline, though some layoffs have occurred, said Nicole Dopson, a financial officer in Academic Affairs.

Jobs lost since 2016 have included what Dopson called “administrative-like” positions such as office and administrative assistants, though hits have come in other areas, too, including information technology.

She said UNM has tried to avoid employee cuts that directly affect students, noting that the school continues to fill adviser positions. UNM last fall began an executive review process to determine which jobs to fill.

“We do our best (to not directly impact students), but every position plays a role,” Dopson said.

The “staff” tally does not include faculty members. Dopson said UNM has also eliminated about 17 faculty positions worth about $1.1 million over the past year to help balance the 2018 budget.

UNM must address a nearly $9 million hole in its “instruction and general” budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, and a tuition increase will cover about half of it. The instruction and general budget – built primarily with state money and tuition dollars – covers expenses related to instruction, administration and other day-to-day operations. UNM’s state appropriation for 2018 has fallen nearly 6 percent from the start of 2017.

While regents have not finalized the school’s overall budget for 2018, other planned cuts encompass travel budgets, cellphone expenses and more.

Dopson said UNM departments could shift some expenses to other funding sources, like non-endowed spending accounts, if they are available.

UNM interim President Chaouki Abdallah

UNM interim President Chaouki Abdallah

Falling revenue has forced UNM to make what Interim President Chaouki Abdallah calls more “difficult decisions” heading into 2018.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Abdallah said of the slashing, noting that the staff cuts reverberate even beyond UNM, hurting the tax base and local economy.

Budget cuts affect retention, recruitment, services and even campus morale, according to UNM Staff Council President Danelle Callan.

“Staff is worried what budget cuts mean for the sustainability of their jobs and the services they offer faculty and students. This uncertainty affects morale on campus and has caused staff, faculty, and students to question if UNM is the institution it used to be in how it values those that serve its mission,” she said in a written statement.

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