Facing low morale, Bismarck State College likely to see more cuts to address budget woes
BISMARCK -- Faced with a budget reduction of up to $7.5 million, officials at Bismarck State College are likely to continue to cut more positions after dozens have been eliminated already.
To date, BSC has cut 31 positions — ranging from custodial and administrative positions to faculty members. Nearly all of those have been through resignation, retirement or voluntary separation agreements.
Now, several more positions may need to be eliminated in order to balance the budget, causing some concern among faculty and staff at the college, as well as an organization representing state employees.
“Everyone’s just sort of on pins and needles," said Jacklyne Carlson, an associate professor of chemistry and president of BSC's Faculty Senate.
Morale has been low for employees at BSC since the first budget allotments were introduced about a year ago, Carlson said, and as departments look for ways to save money, employees are taking on increased workloads to make up for vacated positions.
BSC's budget being discussed at the state Legislature includes cuts ranging from $6.4 million to $7.5 million from the college's base budget last biennium set at $36.6 million. It does not include a $1.6 million tuition revenue shortfall anticipated over the next two years due to a slowdown in the energy industry, which has resulted in decreased student enrollment in BSC's energy program.
The bulk of BSC's operations comes from salaries, meaning the number of employees will have to be reduced, a decision President Larry Skogen said he has not taken lightly.
“This has not been an easy time. What I’ve been telling my campus is we’ve been in tall cotton for a long time, and now we’re down running through the briar bush," Skogen said in a recent interview. “We’re going to get scratches and pricks along the way as we try to get through this.
Some faculty positions have been replaced with adjunct professors, and some positions have been consolidated, Skogen said.
A large number of faculty retirements in BSC's liberal arts program have resulted in faculty picking up extra classes. The school's history department now only has one full-time person after a retirement this past fall, Carlson said.
Even Skogen, in addition to his role as president and a provost, is teaching a History of the Western Frontier class on Tuesdays and Thursdays this semester.
“Every office on my campus, people are working harder because we’re down people. The jobs of those people, the work that they were doing, didn’t go away," Skogen said.
Staff workload has also increased for some employees, including BSC Athletic Director Buster Gilliss, who has now returned to his old job coaching the men's basketball team.
"(Skogen) kind of took the lead last year when he took on the provost responsibilities," Gilliss said, during basketball practice Tuesday, Feb. 14, at BSC.
Previously, Gilliss coached men's basketball at BSC for 17 years, but he's been out of the game for a while since then.
A series of sports programs at BSC have been eliminated due to budget cuts, including the men's and women's golf and soccer, as well as the women's fast pitch softball team.
As a result of some staff positions that were eliminated, Gilliss now does laundry for the sports teams. He does pre-game concessions preparations, too, and sets up the gym for games.
“It’s just a lot of those different duties that you end up picking up," he said, noting he has still maintained a positive spin on the situation. “You just have to jump in and do that kind of stuff."
Still, for many employees at BSC it has undoubtedly been tough to remain optimistic during a time when the college is losing employees.
“Our employees are dedicated, they say they work hard (and) we have a great work environment here, but I have to admit this is impacting that and morale — more than I’ve ever seen," said Rita Lindgren, chief human resources officer, who has been at BSC for more than 30 years.
Lindgren said base faculty salaries have not increased for the past two years because of budget reductions, and first-year faculty can earn more in K-12 than they can at BSC.
"We just can’t be as competitive," Lindgren said.
Faculty turnover in fiscal year 2015 was 11.7 percent and could increase, Lindgren said.
Other budget reduction solutions at Bismarck State College include an ongoing hiring freeze and the implementation of a voluntary furlough program — which has saved $35,000 in salaries to date. The school said 61 employees have volunteered to give up a day or more of pay as part of the program.
Nick Archuleta, president of North Dakota United union for teachers and public employees, said budget cuts and higher education, eliminating these positions has a “ripple effect” that goes beyond the college's community, but into the communities of Bismarck and Mandan.
Archuleta and Skogen contend that the college is a local economy driver, bringing $194.9 million in direct economic impact in fiscal year 2015.
“When it comes to these budget cuts in higher education and elsewhere, we have to be really careful that we’re not inadvertently causing negative effects that will linger far into the future," Archuleta said.
BSC is the third largest North Dakota University System institution in the state and receives 30 percent less state funding per student than the average of other colleges in the system.
“They’re as lean, I think, as they can possible get. Pretty soon, you’re going to be cutting bone and when that happens … you do some irrefutable damage, and I really am hoping that people are cognizant of that as the budget solutions move forward," Archuleta said.