By RON COLE
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Youngstown State University would be one of the biggest losers and could be forced to consider another tuition increase under a proposed allocation of state funding.
YSU's state funds would drop by $2.9 million, or 6.5 percent, from $44 million to $41.1 million for the 2002-03 fiscal year, according to calculations released by the Ohio Board of Regents.
The decline is on top of a 6 percent, $3 million cut in state funds for YSU this year and has officials at YSU and universities statewide scrambling to find ways to make up the shortfall.
"Surprising and shocking," YSU chief financial officer Terry Ondreyka said about the proposed reduction.
"At this point we are looking at any and all options," he added.
In all, seven of the state's 13 four-year public universities would lose money under the proposal, which will go before regents Wednesday for preliminary approval.
YSU's loss is the second-highest, behind a $3.5 million projected decline at the University of Cincinnati.
Six schools would get additional money, including a $3.45 million increase at the University of Akron and a $2.45 million jump at Kent State University, according to records from the state.
The differences in allocations are based in large part on the regents' complex funding formula, the state's budget woes and big enrollment increases at some campuses.
The allocations are estimates that could change after additional review, Rich Petrick, the regents' vice chancellor for finance, said in a memo to higher education leaders across the state.
But Petrick said some campuses may have to adopt even tougher budget actions to balance their 2002-03 budgets as a result of the reduced allocations.
"On the other hand, for the more rapidly growing campuses, the proposed allocation will ease the great burden they are experiencing of serving more students," he added.
YSU President David Sweet said the reduction is particularly troublesome coming only days after YSU approved its 2002-03 budget and in the midst of contract negotiations with the university's faculty and classified staff unions.
"My goal will be to maintain or enhance the quality of our programs," Sweet said. "We will not be cutting or discontinuing course offerings or things of that nature, but we obviously are going to have to face a different circumstance."
Sweet has appealed to Gov. Bob Taft to restore the funding to last year's levels. He also has asked Regents Chancellor Roderick G.W. Chu to designate the budget situation as an "exceptional circumstance," which under law could allow the funding to be restored.
Losing the $2.9 million "would seriously harm the university, undermine our efforts to negotiate reasonable contracts with the two unions and pose a serious setback to YSU's efforts to stabilize the Mahoning Valley's long-suffering economy," Sweet says in a letter to Taft.
If the reduction is approved, Ondreyka said it is too early to say how YSU would respond.
"This certainly could have an impact on tuition [and] labor negotiations," he said. "I don't think anything has been ruled in or out at this time."
Ondreyka estimated that YSU would have to boost tuition and fees by $350 a year to make up the $2.9 million decline. That would be on top of an 8.9-percent tuition increase already approved for the fall semester, which begins in August.
About 54 percent of YSU's $111 million 2002-03 general fund budget is funded through tuition, with the other 46 percent coming from state allocations.
Sweet said presidents of Ohio's universities struck a deal with Taft in the spring agreeing to limit tuition increases to less than 10 percent in return for promises from the governor not to further cut higher education funding.
In addition, Sweet said the state's 2002-03 budget includes a "hold harmless" clause that says universities will receive at least the same level of state funding in 2002-03 as 2001-02, Sweet said.
Ondreyka and Sweet said the allocations could be very divisive among the state's universities, pitting those getting less money against those getting more.