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Layoffs are 'inevitable,' Bernardo fears

Published on December 3, 2010 3:01AM

Last changed on December 31, 2010 8:22AM

WSU ag programs prepare for more budget cuts


Capital Press

A smaller faculty and staff and fewer agricultural programs are the likely outcome of Washington State University's latest round of budget reductions.

Dan Bernardo, dean of WSU's College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, said he expects the college and WSU Extension to face reductions of about $2 million in permanent budget. As dean, Bernardo oversees the Agricultural Research Center, academic programs and the WSU Extension Service.

There will also be reductions of about $3 million in one-time funds, or funds required to cover the one-time "callback" of funds Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire announced in September, he said. Callbacks are when state officials take back funding from the university.

Washington's recent state tax revenue forecast predicts a shortfall of $385 million for the current biennium, and a shortfall of $809 million for the 2011-2013 biennium.

Bernardo said he is "gravely concerned" about the implications for the university and agricultural research and extension programs.

"The horizon doesn't look any better in the short run," Bernardo said. "We anticipate there will likely be another callback of funds by the state in February, or perhaps earlier."

"When we're halfway or two-thirds through the year, and we have a callback of those funds, it makes it particularly challenging to meet those callbacks," Bernardo said.

The college tries to be strategic in allocating budget reductions, Bernardo said, but such large reductions, on top of reductions already made prior to the start of the biennium, will hit programs.

In 2009, the Washington State Legislature cut 10.4 percent, or about $52 million, from WSU's budget. That meant a $551,000 reduction in the budget for the CAHNRS academic programs, a $2.1 million reduction at the research center and a $3.14 million reduction at WSU Extension. Further cuts of $13 million were announced earlier this year.

About 85 percent of the budget is comprised of salaries and benefits, Bernardo said.

Reductions will essentially come from downsizing faculty and support staff in agriculture and other programs in the college and WSU Extension, Bernardo said. The total number of reductions has not yet been determined.

The college and extension have held back on hiring for positions that are not priorities. Bernardo said more employees will be moved onto grants, contracts and other sources of funding.

"Obviously, some layoff of personnel will be inevitable," he said.

It's not certain how many will be affected by layoffs. Bernardo said the picture will likely be more clear after the first of the year, as the college finishes its plans.

Farmers will see a reduction in the size and scope of research programs the university offers, Bernardo said.

There will also likely be a reduction in the number of graduates entering the agri-business labor force, he said. He also anticipates a reduction in WSU Extension programs, as well as more user fees or registration fees.

Producers will be asked to pay a larger share of the total research bill through their commodity commissions.

Bernardo urges farmers to stress to decision makers the value of research and extension programs. While the college can't be left off the hook for the reductions, he said, "We have to minimize these reductions so we don't unravel a century of investment in some very high-quality programs."

The challenge is a very small component of the state budget is discretionary, Bernardo said. Higher education comprises one of the largest discretionary pieces.

"As long as we have that budget model in place, we're going to be highly vulnerable," he said.


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