Editorial: Publish details of budget cuts

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

Faculty and staff at the University of Kansas are right to be concerned about the way the university is approaching $20 million in cuts from the 2019 budget.

After all, the methodology the university is using means many of the reductions in staff and resources actually will come next year.

Last week, Journal-World reporting showed that many KU departments are using what they call “carry-forward” funds to delay having to actually reduce spending by an estimated 5.8 percent. A carry-forward fund is a type of reserve fund that accumulates when funds budgeted in previous years aren’t spent. Departments and units historically have been allowed to keep those unspent funds in a carry-forward account.

Carry-forward accounts, which KU Chief Financial Officer Diane Goddard said total upward of $20 million, aren’t reflected as part of the publicly viewable budget documents KU uses. That makes it difficult to scrutinize the budget and figure out where the cuts are being made.

The reality is the use of the carry-forward funds essentially allows departments to delay many of their cuts by a year. Any carry-forward funds used to reduce the 2019 budget will require that real cuts of an equal value be made in the 2020 budget.

For example, Chancellor Douglas Girod told faculty and staff recently that “we already have done in excess of 10 percent cuts in my office.” Not only was the Journal-World unable to identify 10 percent in cuts, but $337,000 of Girod’s total wasn’t a budget cut at all but a reduction in carry-forward funds.

Interim Provost Carl Lejuez said last week that he hopes to have a detailed list of budget cuts and adjustments broken down by department for a meeting with faculty and staff later this month. But he admitted he is seeing very few actual cuts to meet the mandate that 5.8 percent be cut from this year’s operating budgets. Instead, he said, departments are using carry-forward money. And as Lejuez confirmed, that means real cuts likely will come with base reductions in next year’s budget.

The Journal-World previously endorsed the $20 million in budget cuts as difficult but necessary as KU looks to rein in spending and balance its budget. But the methodology is deceptive; the use of carry-forward funds to create one-time budget reductions creates the illusion that cuts have been made when they really haven’t.

KU hasn’t been as transparent as it should have been throughout this budget reduction process. Let’s hope Lejuez follows through on his promise to publish a detailed budget so that faculty and staff can get a sense not only of what cuts have been made but also what reductions still loom.


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