Lost in Translation – State Budget Redux

Last week the Yakima Herald called for numbers for their annual post-legislative session budget wrap-up. The article is in today’s YHR.

The reporter, Erin Snelgrove, was trying to compare apples to apples in order to show the difference between the last biennial budget and this one.  Here’s what I sent her.

Change in Funding for the Cost of Education  at CWU

State Biennial Operating Budget

2009-2011 2011-2013
State funding $93.3 million $64.1 million
Tuition $95.2 million $115.6 million
Total Funding $188.5 million $179.8 million

She also wanted to know how we intended to back-fill the $8.7 million gap left over after we raise tuition.

Answer:

  • enroll more students (9,980) than we budgeted for (9,700)
  • cut goods and services
  • lay off 15 to 20 people

I know everyone is wondering how the state budget will be translated to the real world in which we live and work. This article seemed like a good excuse to write about that.

I wish now to activate a luxury enjoyed by bloggers but not others interviewed by the news media: to add to the context of the YHR news article.

[Pause for a rambling aside:] As a former reporter, I can tell you we used to hate it when someone claimed to have been “misquoted.” Actually, I think that rarely happens. What does happen is that  reporters do not have the space and time to record your every thought, rambling aside, or irrelevant  musing. That’s why it’s particularly important to  say what you mean as often as possible during an interview or be willing to live with what are often the more interesting quotes the reporter chooses.  [Irrelevant musing complete.]

 Erin’s simple question: Will any one group be targeted for layoffs?

              Answer: No

Another simple question: How will you make up the lost revenue?

               Answer: Enroll more students than budgeted, reduce goods and services, lay off 15 to 20 people.

Yet another question: Why did the university choose to avoid the salary reduction for employees?

              Short answer: It is not possible to implement an across-the-board reduction in our complex labor environment.

               Rambling answer prompted by creeping-fear-that-more-context-was-needed-to-understand-the-situation:

The state has been wearing down the workforce for at least two biennia with cuts and freezes in wages and benefits, furloughs, and prohibitions on merit-pay increases. In attempting to protect families and the vitality of the community, the university has tried to avoid layoffs by allowing voluntary leave and retirement, leaving vacant positions unfilled, and implementing cyclic leave instead of eliminating positions. Staff and faculty are managing larger and larger work-loads than ever with fewer co-workers and less compensation.

This is not a recipe for strong morale or institutional progress. Erosion is a terrible way to manage an organization for success in the long run. “Across-the-board” is never strategic. Neither is letting fate determine areas of strength and capacity.

This biennium must be different if the university to succeed in the long run. We have to invest in areas critical to the success of the university. We have to use reliable data to inform decisions. We have to look at the Big Picture and the Long Term.

As you can imagine or read for yourself, this context is not immediately evident in the article, which actually was intended as a snapshot of our budget situation. Erin’s snapshot is accurate, then again  snapshots never do tell the whole story.

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About Linda Schactler

Linda is the former Director of Communications for the Washington State Senate, and former deputy director of the Washington State Higher Education Coordinating Board. From 2000 through 2010 Linda was the proprietor of Schactler Communications, an Olympia-based public affairs business. She holds a master of arts in English literature from Washington University in St. Louis. Linda can be reached at her Ellensburg office schactler@cwu.edu, 509-963-1384, or on her cell phone, 509-607-4103.
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