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University system looks to cut $565 million
North Georgia, Gainesville State colleges instructed to cut $7.5 million total
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Two area colleges have been directed to make more than $7.5 million in combined cuts to meet state legislators’ budget demands.

After a meeting with the House and Senate subcommittees on higher education Wednesday, Erroll B. Davis Jr., chancellor of the University System of Georgia, is looking to cut the university system’s budget by $565 million — nearly $200 million more than the system expected to cut before Wednesday, said system spokesman John Millsaps.

On Thursday, the chancellor directed system presidents to come up with a plan to make the cuts by Saturday afternoon, detailing specific amounts that each institution would have to cut. The chancellor plans to make a systemwide recommendation to lawmakers by Monday, Millsaps said.

Gainesville State College officials will have to find a way to cut $3.37 million more from the college’s planned spending for fiscal year 2011, which begins in July, Millsaps said. At North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega, the ultimatum meant cutting an additional $4.18 million.

Both institutions already cut spending in fiscal year 2010. Gainesville cut $2.5 million from its originally approved budget of $20.15 million. North Georgia officials have cut more than $3 million of their original $25 million budget for 2010.

Representatives from Gainesville State did not return calls seeking comment Thursday, and a spokeswoman for North Georgia had little information to offer about how the school would approach the cuts.

However, Kate Maine, director of university relations for North Georgia, did say that President David Potter would meet with school administrators Friday to discuss how to approach the cuts.

Until last week, when state lawmakers voted to take a two-week hiatus to allow budget planners to hunker down and find a way to cut state spending by about $1 billion, officials with the university system were planning the 2011 budget on a spending plan recommended by Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Perdue’s budget cut the system’s spending by $265 million, but on Tuesday, legislators sent a letter to system officials telling them to come to Wednesday’s meeting prepared to make recommendations for more cuts.

“But they provided us no information about a number; no one would give us any kind of a number that they were considering,” Millsaps said.

Gathering information from news reports, university system officials made a presentation showing the effects of cuts that were what they thought was their share of a needed $1 billion cut in overall state spending, Millsaps said.

Expecting to shave another $120 million from Perdue’s recommended $265 million, Davis told legislators the cuts were equal to the University of Georgia’s entire operation. Other examples Davis gave for the equivalent of the $385 million total was a 77 percent increase in tuition for students statewide whose tuition isn’t at a fixed rate.

And while the numbers seemed daunting, legislators on Wednesday were looking at making an even deeper gash.

“They said ‘in addition to the $265, you need to be thinking about $300 million,’” Millsaps said. “...So we were way under in our estimate (of $120 million)”

Davis notified university presidents of the new budget numbers in a conference call Thursday morning. In the call, Davis gave presidents until midday Saturday to provide suggested cuts for their individual institutions.

The chancellor plans to submit a list of systemwide cuts to the legislative subcommittee by Monday, though the document will not have approval by the Board of Regents, Millsaps said.

The document, once submitted, will be made public, but Millsaps said he still hopes lawmakers will look for funding for public higher education institutions the same way it looked for funding to support students attending private institutions.

“Clearly, the legislature supports higher education,” he said. “For example, they expended a lot of effort to figure out how to come up with $35 million to protect the tuition equalization grant that assists students going to private institutions; there was a hole and they found the money to keep doing that, so that is a signal that they clearly support higher education ... and we certainly hope that that signal continues to be a part of their decision-making regarding the University System of Georgia in basically a $2 billion state appropriation.”

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