Monday, June 23, 2008 | 2 a.m.
These days, public colleges are filled with employees worried they could be out of a job in a year or so, another product of Nevada’s financial crisis.
Two town hall meetings on the state budget, one on Thursday at UNLV and another on Friday at the College of Southern Nevada, did little to allay workers’ fears.
At those meetings, administrators said significant reductions in state funding in the next biennium would require them to reduce the amount they spend on salaries.
Campus professional employees, such as advisers and budget analysts, are typically appointed to their positions for one year at a time. Many must receive a full fiscal year’s notice if their school does not plan to reappoint them.
That means colleges have until June 30 to notify many employees of terminations to take effect in the 2009-10 fiscal year.
Neither CSN nor UNLV officials plans to issue blanket notices of nonrenewal.
But Patty Charlton Dayar, CSN’s vice president of finance and budget, said her school would likely be sending out some notices related to budget cuts.
UNLV officials are uncertain whether they will be doing the same.
Because benefits and salaries eat up most of UNLV’s state dollars, “for us to make a large impact on any reduction, we’ve got to find some way to get into the salary side of the expenses side. So nonrenewals are a possibility,” UNLV President David Ashley said at Thursday’s meeting. “We would absolutely limit it as much as possible.”
The last question during the town hall meeting came from an employee who asked Ashley when workers might receive notices.
“It’ll probably be June 30,” Ashley replied.
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Less than three weeks have passed since UNLV senior Hepi Mita launched a Facebook group protesting budget cuts.
About 1,000 people have joined, including students from UNLV, UNR and the College of Southern Nevada.
Facebook is an online social network popular with students. The group started by Mita, a paid intern at the Las Vegas Sun, is called “The Nevada Higher Education Budget Cuts are Threatening My Future.”
Students have used the group’s discussion boards to share news articles and other information about the financial crisis.
John Kuhlman, a spokesman for the Nevada System of Higher Education, also has joined, posting links to budget tidbits such as a memo explaining how cuts could affect UNLV.
“It’s a group that has tremendous potential as a student advocacy tool,” particularly because it was started by students for students, he said.
But how effective will the group be?
Though its leaders exhorted fellow students to go to recent town hall meetings at CSN and UNLV, student turnout was low at both.
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On the list of college officials’ many frustrations, the ever-evolving nature of the state’s budget crisis ranks high.
Projections of the state’s revenue shortfall have changed frequently, causing headaches for administrators trying to plan cuts.
Voluntary employee furloughs, layoffs, a four-day workweek, enrollment caps, increasing student fees yet again — everything is on the table, partly because officials don’t want to limit their options because they don’t know how much they need to cut.
At Friday’s town hall meeting, CSN President Michael Richards shared his four-hour theory: “I’m figuring that everything changes about every four hours.”
“We’re dealing with multiple fiscal years. We’re also dealing with a political process during an election year,” he said. “And we’re dealing with a number of financial unknowns on the state level, so all of that breeds a certain environment of uncertainty.”
Lending credibility to Richards’ four-hour theory, an audience member at Friday’s town hall meeting announced that a much-anticipated special session of the state Legislature to discuss budget cuts might have been postponed.
That was news to Richards, but the rumor proved true. Gov. Jim Gibbons announced Friday that the special session, originally scheduled to begin Monday, had been rescheduled to begin this Friday.
“No one knows exactly what’s going to happen in the special session,” Ashley said at Thursday’s meeting. “When the special session was announced, it was a surprise to many.”