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YSU budget expects fewer students, funds

YOUNGTOWN — Youngstown State University is preparing for fewer students and less state funding with approval of its latest budget.

The budget approved Thursday by the university’s trustees plans for student enrollment declines of at least 15 percent and a 20 percent reduction in state funding.

It includes reductions in salaries, furloughs, layoffs and a reorganization of the university’s academic programs.

The YSU-Ohio Education Association expressed disappointment that the university did not accept its offer to pause contract negotiations for a year while everyone comes to grips with changes taking place because of the coronavirus pandemic.

YSU-OEA President Steven Reale this week sent a letter to university trustees, seeking before Thursday’s vote to address the union’s concerns about continuing contract negotiations during the pandemic.

But YSU board chairman David Deibel sent a written response to Reale stating that because the bulk of his comments had to do with contract negotiations, he would not be allowed to address the board.

The university in recent weeks has been preparing for these sweeping changes with announcements about significant budget cuts and the elimination of at least one of its colleges.

“This budget reflects the significant impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on our university, the economy and our students,” YSU President Jim Tressel said Thursday. “While difficult, this plan also presents the opportunity for YSU to continue to offer a quality, affordable higher education that focuses on the success of our students and our community.”

The $157.9 million operating budget is $26 million less than approved last year:

l YSU is expecting a decline of full-time students of about 15 percent due to uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. This will represent a $15.1 million loss in tuition and fees;

l A 12 percent decrease in investment earnings, representing a loss of $652,000;

l The university will have a 2 percent tuition increase for undergraduate students, representing $82 per semester, per student; and a 4 percent increase for incoming students, representing $189 per student, per semester.

The university previously announced spending reductions of $24.6 million that will include salary reductions for its management staff of between 2 percent and 15 percent; furloughs of all classified and professional administrative union staff; layoffs of 40 to 60 employees; and an additional 22 positions in athletics; as well as a restructuring of academic affairs.

“We are confident that these extraordinary steps will help stabilize our budget and place us on the path back to more traditional revenue and expenditure scenarios moving forward,” said Neal McNally, vice president for Finance and Business Operations.

Earlier this week, leaders of the 350-member YSU-OEA asked university officials to place a one-year pause on contract negotiations in order to determine how the pandemic will affect the university’s future.

“We are disappointed the university’s board of trustees chose to take this action while continuing negotiations,” said Mark Vopat, a spokesman with the union and a member of the YSU Philosophy and Religious Studies Department. “This is making the next semester more complicated because contract negotiations will be happening at the same time the university will be initiating changes in its academic structure and the pandemic. It will be extremely disruptive.”

Vopat said the university could have worked more deliberately and methodically to determine the pandemic’s impact.

Union leaders are expressing concern about the changes that likely will take place over the summer and in the fall semester.

“We do not know whether we will be teaching on campus, online or in some type of hybrid system that combines both,” he said. “There are concerns about the safety of those coming on campus.”

Because his department is being absorbed into Beeghly College, Vopat said he does not know who is his department head or how to make definitive plans for courses.

“We don’t have hard data about the number of students in the various departments,” he said. “The 15 percent is an estimate.”

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