LU Calmly Faces Possible Funding Cuts

Published 11:29 am Thursday, September 4, 2014

FARMVILLE — No panic buttons are being pushed at Longwood in response to the McAuliffe administration’s order to plan for budget cuts.

Governor McAuliffe’s chief of staff Paul Reagan told state agency heads they have until September 19 to submit plans showing how they would enact a five percent operating budget cut for the current fiscal year and seven percent for 2015-16.

The demand from the governor’s office is in response to an estimated $881 million revenue shortfall.

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Oh, and do not, public colleges and universities were told, pass the buck to students.

“It’s actually not as dire as it sounds,” Longwood University President W. Taylor Reveley IV told The Herald this week. “The state still may not require any budget reductions, and if it does they may be less than called for in this planning exercise.”

The university’s planning strategy would include keeping some vacant positions unfilled but will not include any adjustment to its 2.1 percent tuition and fees increase for the current academic year—the smallest increase among state-supported schools.

Furthermore, Reveley said that, though Longwood would “certainly look to hold open some positions currently vacant” within the state-ordered planning, he does not envision a general hiring freeze were the state to order implementation of the budget-cutting plans.

Were the five and seven percent operating budget cuts to take effect, Longwood would be looking for an estimated $1.7 million in savings over the two-year period.

But Longwood’s president was quick to put the cuts into perspective. They would be cuts in state funding, not the university’s overall budget.

“Most importantly,” he stressed, “the percentage reductions the state is discussing are against just the funding which the state itself provides—which is to say, not five percent and seven percent of our total budget, but five percent and seven percent of the general fund dollars the state provides.”

That total, Longwood’s president pointed out, is “roughly just one percent of our total budget in each year.”

Governor McAuliffe has informed key legislators that budget amendments in December will focus on reduced spending next year but that nearly $350 million must be cut from this year’s budget now.

The governor predicts an additional $500 million-plus must be cut from the fiscal year 2016 budget.

Reagan’s directive to state agency heads was to focus on “lowest priority activities” and “on protecting priorities that are essential to Virginia’s economic growth.”

The absence of any alarm in Reveley’s response to the budget cut planning is due, in no small measure, to the fact state funding is no longer Longwood’s driving financial force.

“In decades past, state funding was the engine of Longwood’s budget. Despite an abundance of goodwill on the part of state officials to do more,” he noted, “state funding is not the engine of our budget any longer and hasn’t been for some time. Student revenue is.”

Reveley’s calm is therefore also based on the strength of Longwood’s enrollment.

“Enrollment is the best indicator of the strength of the university,” he affirmed. “In that regard, we’ve welcomed a record freshman class of just over 1,100, following the previous largest class ever last year, which was just under 1,100.”

So no panic buttons for Longwood, even with Reagan’s directive that colleges and universities are not to look toward students to make up a decrease in state funding. The governor has made no mention of prohibiting public colleges and universities from instituting modest, as-expected tuition or fee increases for the 2015-16 school year.

“In short,” Reveley summed up to The Herald, “the current fiscal situation with the state is something we are certainly focused on, but it is not at all a crisis for Longwood.”