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University to see share in cuts

The Alabama Legislature gave its stamp of approval on an Education budget this week, and Troy University officials say they’re pleased with their share.

At least they are as pleased as they can be, considering the funding hardships the state’s education system has undergone the last two years.

A budget that provides the university a level amount from last year and is equitable across education levels is the best Troy’s Director of Government Relations Marcus Paramore said the school could have hoped for.

“We will make the best of that, try to move forward and provide good services to our students,” Paramore said. “We got basically what we asked for looking at the numbers and projections of what the state’s revenue might be. It was imperative they gave us level funding.”

Still though, this budget provides around $21 million less than the university was allocated in 2008, and the university has had to find ways to keep up with less money.

The state provided funds, which compose about 19 percent of the university’s total budget, were at $62 million in 2008. That dropped to $49 million in 2009, and then the budget was cut further with one of the highest prorated amounts in Alabama history.

State funds were cut to $45 million in 2010, and this budget will be level funding to that scaled-back amount.

One of the ways the university has kept its budget propped up is with federal stimulus dollars, similarly to how local K-12 schools have handled budget cuts.

That will be the case again this budget year, which begins October 2010 and spans to September 2011.

“Thankfully we have another round of stimulus dollars, and that will get us up to right at $50 million,” Paramore said.

“Next year when we go through this process there is no stimulus money,” he said. “The economy’s got to make a turn around or the next budget cycle will be very tough for all segments of education.”

What schools hope for the most in this budget is it won’t have to be cut for the third year in a row.

“I think it will stand. I don’t think we’ll have proration in it,” Paramore said.

The problem with the budgets, however, is the state officials must predict in April what the economy will do a year in advance.

“If the economy goes downward again, we might see some proration, but they did a pretty good job with their projections,” Paramore said.

The university’s Board of Trustees typically passes the school’s budget in its summer meeting.

And, when the board convenes they may have another issue to consider besides state funding, after the House passed a bill to fund the state’s PACT program.

The bill, as it was amended Thursday, would place a cap on tuition increases for PACT students, enabling higher education facilities to only raise tuition by 2.5 percent for those in the program.

Paramore said Troy University remains opposed to that portion of the bill.

“We feel under previous legislation the Legislature has given the power and authority to the Boards of Trustees of the respective institutions,” Paramore said. “Let the Board of Trustees continue to decide what tuition will be.”

Troy University’s board has already placed a freeze on tuition increases until 2012, but Paramore said the school reserves the right to determine for itself what steps to take after.

“We are supportive of helping those PACT students, and we agreed to freeze tuition, but that was the Board of Trustees,” Paramore said. “It’s more of a matter of principal than the actuality of it.”

The bill will commit $236 million from the state’s education budget to guarantee PACT investors receive their funding.

The Senate has already passed a version of the bill that doesn’t place a cap on tuition, so now this subsitute bill will return to the Senate for approval.

Sen. Ted Little of Auburn told the Associated Press he felt the cap on tuition was unconstitutional.