State legislators, higher-ed leaders meet to discuss budget cuts

State legislators, higher-ed leaders meet to discuss budget cuts
A packed house at the Shreveport-Bossier Business Alliance's higher education summit Tuesday.
A packed house at the Shreveport-Bossier Business Alliance's higher education summit Tuesday.
Legislators speak at the Shreveport-Bossier Business Alliance's higher education summit Tuesday
Legislators speak at the Shreveport-Bossier Business Alliance's higher education summit Tuesday

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - The conversation over the possible cuts to higher-education continues. State law makers, local community leaders and higher education administrators came together Tuesday to discuss the severity of the situation.

"We have to make some tough decisions in Louisiana right now," said Julie Baxter Payer, Governor Jon Bel Edward's Deputy Chief of Staff.

"That once again shows that our position is as vulnerable as it has ever been," said Dr. Joe Rallo, the Commissioner of Higher Education.

"It's very, very bad. And this has been coming for a long time," said former State Senator Robert Adley.

The state of higher-education across Louisiana is dire. That was the message from Adley, who was on hand to explain just how severe these cuts could be.

"The layoffs will be massive if we don't go fix this problem," said Adley.

There is a $750 million mid-year Louisiana budget shortfall, and currently, the governor's office has asked higher-education to prepare to cover $131 million of that money. The problem is that since 2008, Louisiana has cut state funding by 53 percent, and the school year is almost up, which makes finding the money the state is asking for even more difficult.

"We have literally exhausted three quarters of our budget already, and so to be able to respond to that number at this particular time, it wreaks havoc on the university community," said Dr. Ray Belton, the President and Chancellor of the Southern University System.

"What happens now is that the magnitude of the cut, 50 percent, and the late time in the year, there is really no place to find money because classes have already started, faculty are there, I mean I can easily see some of the things in March, for example, classes will not be there," said Dr. Joe Rallo, the Louisiana Commissioner of Higher Education.

Dr. Dan Reneau, the University Louisiana System's Interim President, said to the summit attendees, "I know what it's like to look a student in the face and tell him he can't graduate because we can't offer the course he has for the lack of faculty and the lack of funds."

At the summit, state legislators stressed to higher-education leaders and the Shreveport-Bossier community leaders they are committed to saving higher-education.

The Commissioner of higher-education says this is the minimum amount of cuts schools could see. If the legislators do not approve use of the rainy day fund and BP non-coastal dollars to help get rid of the $750 million shortfall, that could mean universities could have to cut even more money.

Southern University was also asked to submit a budget reduction plan. If the government has to make cuts to higher-education, Southern would be responsible for about 6 percent of the cuts.

That would mean a total of about $7.8 million would be cut from Southern's budget. The state's board of regents outlined cuts to the state's colleges and universities.

According to David Helveston, the Vice President of Workforce, Career, and Technical education, a cut at this point in the fiscal year could be drastic. The cuts would require a reduction of 1200 employees in their system, which includes Bossier Parish Community College. They would have to cut $20.2 million out of their current state general fund budget of $62 million.

"We remain optimistic that this administration and our legislators will find solutions. And in the meantime, we remain focused on solving the state's workforce challenge," said Helveston.

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