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Middlebury College consolidate staff to trim budget

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By KATHRYN FLAGG

MIDDLEBURY — As Middlebury College students dove into final exams, college officials this week unveiled a second round of major budget cuts made necessary by dwindling donations and a $300 million hit that the institution’s endowment has taken in the recent economic downturn.

In a memo that went out to students, faculty and staff early Tuesday morning, College President Ronald D. Liebowitz announced that some of the biggest changes would come in the consolidation of departments, offices and functions throughout the college to reduce staffing levels.

Though the terms of that consolidation are still hazy and officials could not put a dollar figure on the amount cut, Vice President for Administration and Treasurer Patrick Norton said consolidation might help the college contract after a decade of unparalleled growth.

The college added more than 400 staff positions over the past 10 years, Norton said. Now, he went on, the college needs to cut back. Administrators hope those cuts can be made through voluntary measures like early retirement and attrition, rather than firing employees, often referred to as “reductions in force,” or RIFs.

“We can’t guarantee ‘no RIFs,’ but we’ve been pretty transparent along the way that we’re going to do what we can to avoid that,” Norton said.

In Tuesday’s memo to the college community, Liebowitz revealed that some of the deepest cuts would be to the arts programs at the college.

The college’s Museum of Art now faces a non-negotiable 10 percent cut to its budget, with the understanding that much of those savings will come from a reduction in the size and number of exhibitions and print publications.

The recommendations also call for all technical and production staff in the arts to be consolidated under the supervision of a single administrator. The college also plans to gradually consolidate staffing at the museum and the Mahaney Center for the Arts to reduce labor costs, and will increase the charge to students for private lessons offered by the music faculty.

The arts cuts, and other recommendations for belt-tightening at the college, were recommended to Liebowitz by the Budget Oversight Committee. The committee was assembled last fall to trim $20 million from the school’s spending plan.

Norton said the second round of cuts does not bring the college all the way toward its goal of cutting $20 million, but it does mark progress.

At last week’s meeting of the college’s board of trustees, trustees approved a balanced fiscal budget for the 2010 fiscal year that totals $224 million.

The cuts, Norton said, “make a difference, but (they don’t) solve our deficit.”

Liebowitz, in his e-mail to the school community, outlined these recommendations, and indicated which cuts he’d accepted and which plans he’d amended

In one notable amendment, Liebowitz nixed the BOC’s recommendation for ending the college’s relationship with the New England Review, instead giving the prestigious literary magazine until Dec. 31, 2011, to eliminate its current operating deficit.

In other cuts that Liebowitz announced on Tuesday, the college plans to:

•  Eliminate all non-essential travel for athletic teams.

•  Greatly reduce funding to the crew team.

•  Develop a more flexible meal plan for students.

•  Reduce lawn maintenance costs by growing more clover and natural grasses and only mowing fields that are used frequently.

This week’s announcement of addition budget cuts follows a similar round of cutbacks unveiled in January. Those recommendations included the 10 percent reduction in staff through early retirement and attrition over the next few years.

Norton said in April that trimming the staff has already helped the college make headway toward its budget goals, though he said the school isn’t “out of the woods yet” as the BOC continues to meet for another year to seek additional savings.

“That’s the business we’re in. it’s labor-driven. It’s a service business,” Norton said. “We go around and around on how to balance the budget, but at the end of the day it comes back to labor.”

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