15 lose jobs with Northern cuts

ABERDEEN, S.D. (By Elisa Sand esand@aberdeennews.com) – Northern State University eliminated 15 positions recently as part of its continuing effort to address budget challenges.

President Tim Downs shared the news with the campus by email. That statement was shared with the American News this week.

In the email, Downs said the 15 people who were notified as part of a reduction in force were not tenured or tenure track faculty and that no academic programs on campus were affected.

“This is not the message I ever wanted to have to send. Please know that I, and all of our campus leadership team, did not make these decisions lightly. We understand that this seriously affects people’s lives during an already difficult time, and that weighs on our hearts and minds. Unfortunately, our current circumstances have made this action unavoidable. I ask everyone to show great support and empathy for each other in this trying time,” Downs said in his message.

Justin Fraase, vice president of enrollment, communications and marketing, said it is the policy of the South Dakota Bureau of Human Resources to provide payouts to employees for accrued leave.

“Individuals affected by our recent reduction in force were eligible to receive a payout for their unused annual leave, and those who have been continuously employed by the state for at least seven years may be qualified to receive up to 25% of eligible sick leave balances,” he said in an email.

Downs visited with the American News about budget concerns in December. At that time, he talked about the need for the campus to find new sources of income and find budget savings. The university’s general fund budget for fiscal year 2019 was just under $12 million, with an additional $2.9 million for the Statewide Center for E-learning, according to information from the South Dakota Board of Regents

With lower-than-anticipated enrollment, the university started fiscal year 2020 with a budget shortfall in excess of $1.5 million. Downs said staff attrition, reorganization and select budget reductions along with the recent reduction in force have the campus “moving in the right direction to solve our budget deficit.”

But, he said, unknowns about fall enrollment and the budget impact of COVID-19 remain.

In his statement to campus, he said the COVID-19 pandemic is one in a series of factors that made the cuts necessary.

“While we have announced our expectations to resume instruction and activities on campus this fall, we cannot say with certainty that enrollments or classes will not be disrupted or altered due to this pandemic,” Downs said in his message.

Other factors include:

  • A decrease in the number of credit hours taken by students.
  • The cost for tuition, fees, housing and dining services being frozen for fall 2020 and spring 2021.
  • An estimated $1 million was refunded to students this spring when the campus moved classes online. These reimbursements were for housing, meals and parking.
  • Health insurance for employees also increased, adding $250,000 in expenses for the campus.

The South Dakota Board of Regents is also uncertain if the 2% inflationary pay increase approved by the South Dakota Legislature will stay in the budget. Downs said the South Dakota Board of Regents is currently planning for no increase in salaries for fiscal year 2021.

He said nearly 70% of Northern’s budget is dedicated to personnel.

Ongoing cost saving measures for fiscal year 2021 include:

  • The elimination of out-of-state travel with only essential in-state travel allowed.
  • Cutting 15% in operating expense budgets.
  • The strategic use of cash reserves.

(visit www.aberdeennews.com)