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Coronavirus crunch forces furloughs at Boise State

Marlene Tromp.jpg
Posted at 10:01 AM, Apr 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-21 12:01:22-04

BOISE, Idaho — This article was originally written by Kevin Richert with Idaho Education News.

“We hope that furloughing will, in the end, help us protect jobs and keep all of our units intact and up and running,” President Marlene Tromp said Monday afternoon, in an email to staff.

However, Tromp said she couldn’t rule out additional furloughs, if the state’s largest university needs to cut spending further in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Colleges and universities across the state and the nation face long-term budget uncertainty — as the coronavirus pandemic could dramatically affect enrollment and revenues derived from tuition and student room and board. The pandemic has already created immediate cashflow problems. And for the first time, Tromp’s memo quantified the impact at Boise State.

“Like 80 percent of universities across the nation, we made what I firmly believe was the right decision to provide millions of dollars of prorated refunds to our students for dining, housing and parking fees,” Tromp said. “We have also had to cancel millions of dollars in revenue-generating events through the school year and into the summer. These direct losses alone create a nearly $10 million impact.”

In addition, a recent 1 percent budget holdback will affect Boise State, as well as the entire higher education and K-12 systems and most state agencies. Boise State received about $105 million in general fund dollars in 2019-20, so the holdback translates to a cut of slightly more than $1 million.

The universities will receive some help from the federal government — in the form of a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus law. Boise State stands to receive close to $11 million from the feds, but no more than half of that can go towards covering the university’s budget shortfalls. “Justly, 50 percent of that (federal) funding must go directly to students, rather than to amend the losses on the part of the institution.”

The furlough period will run from May 3 through July 31, and will affect nearly every university employee making more than $40,000 annually. Depending on their salary, employees will be expected to take four to 10 furlough days.

“It is my belief that the first steps in cost-reduction should be taken by our leadership,” Tromp wrote. “Therefore, my senior leadership team and I will take a minimum of two weeks of furlough days staggered over the next 3 months, and I, myself, will take more.”

Here, in full, is Tromp’s letter to the university community.

Dear colleagues,

I write to you today regarding the economic challenges Boise State is facing. In the wake of two years of budget cuts and significant underfunding relative to our student population, we have — like every organization in our nation and across the world — had to face the consequences of the global pandemic. I know this has already been a difficult time for most people, and I grieve with you the losses and hardships.

I hope our swift action now can help us avoid what could be more grave action later and provide for the long-term wellbeing of both our community and the institution.

Impacts
The economic toll of this pandemic has been felt by every college and university across our nation, with public institutions experiencing the hardest hit because of our smaller operating reserves and endowments, and larger populations of students with financial need.

As many of you know, like 80 percent of universities across the nation, we made what I firmly believe was the right decision to provide millions of dollars of prorated refunds to our students for dining, housing and parking fees. We have also had to cancel millions of dollars in revenue-generating events through the school year and into the summer. These direct losses alone create a nearly $10 million impact. The CARES Act Funding, while important, cannot cover these costs, and, justly, 50 percent of that funding must go directly to students, rather than to amend the losses on the part of the institution.

These totals do not include the 1 percent mid-year rescission we have already faced or the additional 2 percent base-budget cut we took for next year, nor does it account for any additional cuts should the state need to redistribute funding for direct response to COVID-19. As we all know, these financial realities are compounded by the fact that the near future remains uncertain as the state, the nation, and our students and their families continue to respond to the crisis.

Vital Mission
This doesn’t mean, however, that we are conceding defeat. This difficult time can still become a positively transformative moment for us. Boise State has justly earned its national reputation as an incredibly innovative university, and we have workgroups creatively problem-solving in areas that touch all parts of our organization. We are striving actively to address not only immediate concerns, but also the near- and long-term future we will face. Below, I will ask for your insights.

This is critical because of the incredible value and importance of our work —work in which you play a part: we change people’s lives, so they can change the world. We have so much more to do. Our mission matters. With your help, Boise State will carry on to deliver on that critical mission.

Strategic Planning
We are poised to begin work on our strategic plan for Boise State and that work should not stop. Indeed, this challenging moment will afford us an array of new insights across the university, and this makes it an ideal time for our innovative community to contribute to that conversation. You’ll be hearing from us soon about those efforts. I will call upon your creativity and insight, as well as the strength and courage the Boise State community has always shown and that it will require to face the future together.

Responding to Immediate Challenges
Like every organization, there are immediate challenges that we must face, and many of those involve addressing the financial losses we have experienced.

It is my belief that the first steps in cost-reduction should be taken by our leadership. Therefore, my senior leadership team and I will take a minimum of two weeks of furlough days staggered over the next 3 months, and I, myself, will take more. While it is possible that another phase of furloughs may be necessary later in the year, it is my sincere hope that acting swiftly will help us avoid financial pressures that would necessitate such action.

We hope that furloughing will, in the end, help us protect jobs and keep all of our units intact and up and running.

All staff and 12-month faculty (including administrative faculty, but not faculty who are teaching part time over the summer), subject to certain exceptions, who earn $40,000 or more per year will take furlough days between May 3 and July 31, 2020, in all-day increments based on their current annual salary according to the schedule below:

Annual salary of $150,000 or more – 10 furlough days
Annual salary of $100,000-$149,999 – 7 furlough days
Annual salary of $75,000-$99,999 – 5 furlough days
Annual salary of $40,000-$74,999 – 4 furlough days

Process
All mandatory furlough days will be taken in full-day increments between May 3, 2020 and July 31, 2020. Employees who wish to take additional voluntary furlough days to support our community effort are welcome to do so during that same time period, with their supervisor’s approval. In the coming days, Human Resources will provide guidance for employees and supervisors regarding how to schedule furlough days, how to report time on furlough days, unemployment insurance during furloughs, and other relevant information. You can find Furlough Guidance FAQs on the Human Resources website. Additional questions about the furlough should be directed to your supervisor or Human Resources.

Our Future
Boise State is a resilient institution that can emerge stronger on the other side of the crisis — just as it has every crisis it has faced before. Our shared efforts will ensure that the university can deliver on our mission to change the lives of students, offer pathbreaking research and serve the state for generations.

If you have insights about how we might do our work more efficiently and creatively, please reach out to your divisional leaders, or provide them here. We know you can see cost-savings, creative solutions and innovations in your areas that we may not. We want to employ the rich wisdom and insight of our community, so that Boise State will thrive long into the future.

Take good care of yourselves and your loved ones.

With gratitude for all you do for each other, our students, and the world through our work,

Dr. Marlene Tromp
President