By Denise Dick
Members of a joint task force of the Youngstown State University administration and four employee unions have agreed on about half of the cuts needed to prevent layoffs among union ranks. They have not, however, agreed yet on ways to save the whole roughly $600,000 needed — and time is running out.
The task force was formed at the unions’ request to explore ways to avert the layoffs, which started earlier this month. They include eight union employees, both full and part time. One nonunion employee, the director of Students Motivated by the Arts, or SMARTS, was laid off when that program was eliminated and will not be brought back.
“If in a couple more weeks we can’t reach consensus on how to fill that $600,000 hole, it probably doesn’t make sense to keep meeting any longer,” said President Randy J. Dunn.
Suggestions could be additional cuts or alternative revenue sources. So far, the agreed-upon amount has come from cuts, but Dunn declined to identify them unless the task force reaches a deal.
“We’re not giving up hope,” Dunn said.
In September, Dunn announced cuts to address YSU’s projected $6.6 million deficit. The plan includes a freeze in discretionary spending, laying off five full-time and four part-time nonfaculty employees, asking for voluntary furlough or vacation-day givebacks, campuswide operating budget cuts, technology-expenditure reductions and energy savings.
The deficit is the result of three years of declining enrollment and lower state support.
The task force includes Dunn, Gene Grilli, vice president of finance and administration; the presidents of the YSU Ohio Education Association, which represents faculty; Association of Classified Employees, representing classified civil service employees; Association of Professional and Administrative Staff representing professional and administrative employees; YSU-Fraternal Order of Police; and a second representative from each of those unions.
“We’re’ still hopeful, and we’re still trying,” said Annette Burden, president of the faculty union.
She said the task force marks the first time she’s aware of at YSU that union presidents and the president of the university have gotten together to try to devise budget solutions.
She said one idea being considered is donation of vacation. Faculty members don’t have vacation, so they would consider donation of a day’s pay or more, taken from their paycheck.
“Many of us are willing to do that to try to save our colleagues’ jobs,” Burden said. “In the spirit of the holidays, in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration, many of us are willing to do that.”
Those employees would want assurance, though, that their donation was going to save someone’s job, she said, so if agreement isn’t reached by the task force, they don’t want to move forward with it.
The cuts announced by Dunn and approved by YSU trustees in September already include $230,000 in furlough and unpaid vacation days across campus, and Dunn said that what’s been pledged falls about $30,000 short of that goal.
Burden suggested launching a campaign across campus — union and nonunion — to see if more people would be willing to do it.
Even if the group can’t come up with ways to fill that hole, both Dunn and Burden believe the task force meetings were worth the effort.
“For everybody involved it was a good-faith effort to come together,” Dunn said.
Though she believes there’s a reason the university got to the point where it is, it’s time to look past that. Pointing fingers doesn’t accomplish anything, she said.
“We are where we are whether this administration got us to this point or not, we are where we are,” Burden said.
“Many of us have been here a long time, and we have a lot of pride in this institution. We’re stakeholders. We want to make this university as great it can possibly be, and we’re working toward that effort.”