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Regents approve furlough days for faculty, staff

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Faculty and Staff at Clayton State University, like their counterparts at the other 34 institutions in the University System of Georgia (USG), will be working at least six fewer days during the new school year. That is because the system's Board of Regents unanimously voted Wednesday in favor of furloughs to help meet mandatory budget reductions, the USG announced shortly after the vote was taken.

In addition to the furloughs, the Board of Regents approved health-care-plan changes that include eliminating the system's Indemnity Plan, encouraging USG retirees to move to Medicare Plan B, and encouraging more employees to switch to the system's high-deductible Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plan.

The furloughs, as well as approved changes to health-care plans provided to USG employees, are expected to save the university system $43.5 million, according to a statement released on Wednesday.

"These are difficult reductions for all," USG Chancellor Erroll B. Davis said in a written statement. "We are spreading the pain among our employees, and withholding the direct financial pain to our students as an absolute, last resort. But, we are committed to serving our students - all of our students - with continued high academic quality."

While approving the furloughs, the Board of Regents set stipulations that the university system's lowest paid employees -- anyone who makes less than $23,660 per year -- could not be furloughed, said University System Spokesman John Millsaps. The regents also stipulated that the furloughs are not allowed to affect classes, or employee retirement plans, Millsaps added.

Millsaps said Gov. Sonny Perdue's Office of Planning Budget is currently withholding $115 million in state cash allotments from the university system, because the office is "concerned about state revenues." On Tuesday, Perdue announced revenue figures for July -- the first month of fiscal year 2010 -- were down 9.6 percent from a year ago.

Perdue's office also asked state agencies last month to be prepared in case their budgets were cut by as much as eight percent, Millsaps said. The six furlough days, and health-care-plan changes were designed to address a four-percent budget cut.

While the furloughs and health-care changes will take care of some of that $115 million in withheld funding, Millsaps said the individual institutions will be responsible for making cuts that help the system adjust for the remaining $71 million. That means cost reduction plans "could include layoffs and more employee furloughs, internal reorganizations, an increased focus on energy conservation, and the elimination of low-enrollment programs," Millsaps said, in a written statement.

Clayton State Sokesman John Shiffert said no decisions have been made about how officials at the Morrow-based university will implement the cost-saving measures, or when they will schedule the furlough days to take place. "It's too soon to tell what the effect [of furloughs] might be on Clayton State, except to note ... it will not affect classes," Shiffert said in a written statement.

Millsaps, however, said that at least three of the furlough days must take place by the end of 2009, per a request made by Perdue last month. Institutions have until next June to implement the remaining three furlough days, he said.

Under a plan the university system will submit to Perdue's Office of Planning and Budget, if there is a six percent budget reduction, each university in the system will be asked to implement an additional, unspecified number of furlough days, and/or layoff employees and eliminate positions, Millsaps said.

If the reductions go as high as eight percent, then next semester, colleges and universities will have to increase the mandatory student fees that were first implemented for the spring 2009 semester. For Clayton State students, and their counterparts at other comprehensive universities across the state, that means an extra $100 will be tacked onto the $75 fee that was added to their tuition bills last winter ($175 in total fees).

Students at four-year research institutions, such as the University of Georgia; the Georgia Institute of Technology; Georgia State University and the Medical College of Georgia will have to pay an additional $150 ($250 in total fees), while students at state and two-year colleges will have to pay an additional $75 ($125 in total fees).

In other action on Wednesday, the regents approved the university system's $2.2 billion fiscal year 2011 budget requests, which include $29.1 million to construct a new science classroom on Clayton State's main campus in Morrow, Millsaps said. The requests are things the system is asking Perdue to include in his fiscal year 2011 budget.

A year ago, then-Clayton State President Thomas K. Harden said a new, 144,000-square foot science building was needed because class requirements for first-year students had created a situation where pupils were having to wait as many as two semesters to take required laboratory science classes.