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Education news and issues in the Ozarks.

At Briefing, MSU-West Plains Chancellor Says Budget Cuts “Cannot be Overstated”

MSU-West Plains
MSU-West Plains

Missouri State University-West Plains Chancellor Drew Bennett says withholds to the school’s current budget and reductions to the upcoming fiscal year are its largest in over a decade.

Bennett made the comments during a press conference Tuesday, where he said his campus is facing an immediate hold back of over $418,000 and an ongoing cut of $468,000.

“To complicate this situation, the state is leveeing an increase in the campus’ payment to the Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System (MOSERS), resulting in an additional $80,000 ongoing bill next fiscal year,” Bennett said in a statement.

The cuts are the result of a revenue gap at the state level, and are impacting all of Missouri’s colleges and universities.

Bennett said a loss of this size for an already frugal campus cannot be overstated.

“75 percent of our overall budget goes toward salaries and benefits, and of the remaining 25 percent there are many things, utilities for example, that we cannot just stop paying.”

Covering the Current and Ongoing Cuts

Bennett says the MSU System is covering $200,000 of West Plains’ $418,645 restriction for the current fiscal year. That turns a 6.6 percent reduction to 3.5 percent. One-time costs savings and reserves will cover what remains.

As for the FY 2018 budget, the $468,000 reduction accounts for 7.4 percent in the state appropriations portion of West Plains’ budget.

Bennett noted that it’s unclear if that figure will remain the same or be adjusted between now and when the legislature adopts a budget, but said it will be tough to recoup any losses.

“It took almost 14 years to recover from the budget cuts of FY02, after accounting for inflation and enrollment growth.”

Bennett said protecting the core mission of the university and growing enrollment will be key in how the budget is managed, referring to a set of guiding principles that MSU’s Board of Governors has adopted. West Plains will follow the board’s guidance, he added.

“All budget decisions will be made through a transparent process that uses existing budget committees, involves all constituent groups and utilizes a university-wide communication strategy,” said Bennett.

Earlier this month, the Board began working through its 8.9 percent overall budget reduction for FY 18 by setting the stage for a fall tuition hike.

In his statement Tuesday, Bennett said, “We are mindful of the impact that a tuition increase has on our students, and we will develop our plan in concert with the principles and guidelines set forth by the Board of Governors for the development of the fiscal year 2018 budget.”

Bennett noted the West Plains campus has only raised tuition four times in the past 10 years.

“Nevertheless, our campus will have to decrease expenses and increase revenues to accommodate the budget changes. This certainly means cutting or reducing some programs and raising tuition.”

Hass-Darr Hall

The MSU-West Plains chancellor noted in his presentation Tuesday that the budget restrictions do not impact the Hass-Darr Hall project. It’s funded by private money, reserves, and $1.5 million in previously issued state revenue bonds specifically for the project.

“The facility will provide a much-needing gathering space for students, many of whom are commuters, and will include classroom and administrative office space that will enhance student learning and academic success,” Bennett said.

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