Budget woes spur cuts

With budget cuts looming over Northern Kentucky University like a dark storm cloud waiting to break, University Housing is now eliminating student jobs.

Resident Assistants, or RAs, are being offered a severance package in exchange for resigning, according to Residential Housing Association President Lindsay Hunter.

The administration has asked University Housing Director Matt Brown to reduce the RA staff by eight members by the spring semester, Hunter said.

“We had more RAs than we needed,” Brown said, “but our RAs are under contract for the year, and I wanted to honor that contract. We just don’t have the occupancy to have as many RAs as we have.”

The severance package will allow RAs who resign to receive free housing in the spring semester, although no meal plan will be included. The RAs will not be required to buy a meal plan, however.

“I know it’s necessary for university housing to cut back on the position because of their budget problems, and I think it’s good that they’re giving people a chance to get out without getting fired, while also leaving them open to continue living on campus for free,” said Norse Hall RA Greg Walton.

Walton said, because he is a RA in Norse Hall and oversees 90 residents, he feels that his job is secure.

Brown declined to say exactly how many RAs have resigned, but said he anticipated the department would meet the goal of eliminating eight staff positions.

He said RAs who resign can reapply for the position next year if they wish.

The remaining RAs in the traditional dorms will take on more residents to compensate for the loss in staff. RAs in the traditional dorms typically oversee 20 residents, compared with Norse and Woodcrest RAs, who oversee 90 residents.

Dean of Students Kent Kelso said the staff cuts are necessary in order to prevent a budget deficit for University Housing this academic year.

“This is part of a plan to try and keep us from going into a deficit,” he said. “Housing has to support itself, so its revenues have to exceed its expenditures. That is our struggle right now.”

He said that University Housing does not get any funding from the state or from university tuition and student fees. He said its revenue comes solely from rent paid by residents.

“When Housing makes their budget, they make it based on an estimate of how much rent they will collect,” he said.

“We could keep the current RA staff, but if we did, we would have to raise rent,” Kelso said. “We don’t want to do that. We’re trying to be fiscally responsible so we don’t have to pass any significant rent increases on to students.”

Kelso said the department has already cut down on major renovation projects as well and travel and operating costs.

“The next step was to look at some of our top expenditures,” he said, “and a top expenditure for us is staff.”

Kelso said this year’s budget, made by former Director of University Housing Todd Duncan, was based upon an expectation that the Residential Village would be 95 percent full.

“We’re less than 90 percent (capacity) in the fall, so we’re going to be possibly less than 80 percent in the spring,” he said. “We’re not bringing in the money we thought we would. During tough times we have to be very lean on our expenditures.”

He said the addition of University Suites and the 400 beds it provides has put a financial strain on the budget and it may take a couple of years for the department to rebound.

Kelso said the national ratio of RAs to student residents is 1-to-40, and the university is well under that ratio.

“Our plan is to change that to lower Kentucky and Commonwealth RA staff to about 12,” he said. “That puts us back to (a ratio of) about 1-to-24. That’s still way below the national average.”