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University System of Georgia allowing schools to initiate unpaid leave if needed
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The faculty and staff of Gainesville State College and North Georgia College & State University can put their fears of furloughs to rest for now.

Spokespeople for the two University System of Georgia institutions said the schools have no plans to furlough any faculty or staff in the upcoming school year.

The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia approved a plan Tuesday allowing system presidents the authority to furlough any and all employees, including faculty, should the need arise.

The board voted unanimously to let the leaders at the state’s 35 colleges and universities put workers on unpaid leave to help alleviate budget shortfalls.

University System of Georgia Chancellor Erroll B. Davis Jr. said the board’s action changes a situation in which one-fourth of the University System’s roughly 40,000 employees are excluded by contract from furloughs, but these employees account for approximately one-half of all personnel costs.

"This gives our presidents the flexibility to make furlough decisions for their respective institutions, if the state revenue situation continues to worse," Davis said in a regents news release.

The Board of Regents now requires system institutions to alter faculty contracts for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, to allow college or university presidents "to implement a mandatory furlough program requiring employees to take not more than 10 days of unpaid annual leave."

In January, state lawmakers criticized Davis for boosting staff pay and avoiding employee furloughs as the state struggled to fill a $2 billion budget hole. Georgia’s higher education system lost $238 million in state funding this year and is expected to be cut about $275 million next year.

Kate Maine, spokeswoman for North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega, said staff contracts already
include a clause allowing for president-mandated furloughs.

Marya Leatherwood, vice president for academic affairs at Gainesville State College in Oakwood, said the college would likely reduce travel, purchasing and some services further before mandating furloughs for any of its 407 employees.

"It is a last resort that we would have to take if things were to significantly worsen next year," she said. "At least that’s a more fair and equitable approach than anyone losing their jobs. We’re very sensitive to anyone losing their jobs at this point."

Maine said North Georgia does not plan to furlough any of its 575 employees during the 2009-10 school year.

"Unless state budget reductions continue to worsen, the change that the board of regents approved (Tuesday) gives us the flexibility to do that if needed, but our plan right now is not to do that," she said. "Unfortunately, the state budget situation seems to change frequently."

Maine said if North Georgia President David Potter did mandate furloughs, it would be across the board.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.