K-State is bracing for the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and university leaders anticipate furloughs coming for some employees.
It’s not yet clear how many employees would be furloughed and when it would start.
At a virtual faculty town hall Tuesday morning, Myers said the university is working in three phases, including phase one which involves K-State’s immediate response and preliminary budget planning. The university’s budget office has prepared four scenarios for the upcoming school year. And while Myers didn’t reveal specifics on the scenarios, he said one scenario looks at what the planned university budget would have been prior to the pandemic.
The other scenarios account for increasing levels of response to the pandemic, with the last being the “absolutely worst case scenario” — which would involve state budget cuts and continued enrollment declines.
Administrators distributed the scenarios to university leaders, so that individual departments and units can begin to plan for each of them.
“Going in, the fiscal position of the university is okay,” Myers said, “but we do not have large reserves, and that’s due largely to previous state funding cuts and declining enrollment.”
Myers said the university has several “levers” it can pull to maintain its finances, and that the university has already pulled one of them by implementing a university-wide hiring freeze.
Other university responses will depend on things like state funding and federal stimulus aid. On Monday, state budget officials slashed revenue projections for the next two years by $1.36 billion because of the pandemic. The state legislature in March had approved a $11.9 million block grant in increased funding for state universities — $3.3 million of which is planned to go to K-State — but Myers cautioned that in light of the pandemic, the legislature could revise that allocation before sending it for approval to Gov. Laura Kelly.
K-State is slated to get $12.7 million in federal stimulus aid, although Ethan Erickson, the university’s budget director, said the university has yet to receive those funds. Half of that would have to go directly to student emergency funding, while the other half could be used on the university’s coronavirus-related expenses, which Erickson said the university has been tracking since the pandemic began.
Myers said he and other central administrators have volunteered for a 10% pay cut, and while university operations were already “pretty lean and mean” prior to the pandemic, K-State will likely have to conduct employee furloughs.
“The extent of that has not been determined yet,” he said. “We do not know the who or the depth of that. That’s going to be up to the leadership team, the deans and the vice presidents as we think about these budget scenarios.”
Jay Stephens, vice president for human capital services, said furloughs would allow employees to keep their benefits for 30 days, in contrast with layoffs. A furlough is a temporary job loss with the expectation of an employee coming back to work.
Myers said decisions on furloughs for some employee groups could come before June 30, the end of the university’s fiscal year.
“To be clear, we have to pull more levers as we go forward, but we will not know what those are until the vice presidents and the deans can do the planning around the four budget planning scenarios,” Myers said.
“We don’t have a crystal ball, so what we’re doing is planning for a range of possible futures. We certainly hope we’re not in the worst case scenarios, but if we are, we do need to plan for it,” provost Charles Taber said.
Looking beyond initial budget planning, the university’s phase two involves fall classes, and right now, Myers said the university only has a timeline of potential decision points on what the semester will look like. Although K-State moved to online classes for the summer and cancelled all on-campus operations through July 31, the working, but not guaranteed, assumption is that K-State will conduct face-to-face classes in the fall, Myers said.
Taber said K-State is asking faculty to prepare for both in-person and online classes for the fall semester, as well as a potential hybrid scenario where classes would start online but maybe finish on-campus, and vice versa. He said that while he can’t share too many details, university leaders have discussed “different price points” for tuition in the fall.
K-State’s Housing and Dining Services is also working on plans for allowing students to live on campus in spaced out rooms, and plans even include potentially isolating parts of the residence halls to isolate sick students, said vice president for student life Thomas Lane. The university also would need to train staff on how to work with and help students who may be sick with COVID-19, he said.
In the interim, university leaders are working on a plan to allow faculty back on campus in phases to pick up materials needed for online classes this summer and potentially for the fall. Myers said the university will not resume in-person classes until leaders can be sure they’ll be able to protect the health of students, faculty and the community.
Phase three looks forward a year, to the fall 2021 class. Myers said the pandemic could be an opportunity for the university to reassess how it conducts business and how it differentiates itself among other colleges.
“We’re not going to waste this crisis,” he said. “We’re going to try to take advantage of the situation and the realization — not just in Kansas, but across the nation — that families are hurting, students are certainly hurting economically, and we need to continue to provide access to our customers, to our students.”