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Keenum: MSU “not prepared” for more cuts this fiscal year

Magnolia Marketplace has been going to the monthly lunch meetings of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps for three months shy of two years, and today’s crowd to hear MSU President Dr. Mark Keenum was easily the biggest in that time.

Keenum seemed genuinely surprised at how many folks showed up. “I figured there would be a couple dozen people and one or two members of the press,” he said. Instead, the largest room in the University Club was filled. There were probably close to 100 people in attendance.

Keenum started his 37-minute speech with some good financial news. He said private donations in fiscal year 2009, which ended June 30, were up 20 percent compared with FY08. “And we’re running way ahead of this time last year,” Keenum said.

His discussion of the public funding front wasn’t nearly as positive.

The Institutions of Higher Learning, MSU included, took a 5 percent hit to its budget early last month when Gov. Haley Barbour had to trim $170 million from the FY10 budget because tax revenue in July and August fell short of expectations.

Higher education and K-12 education took the brunt of the cuts, because their budgets had been cut less than other departments during the several rounds of belt-tightening in FY09. Education overall has now been cut by 5 percent.

Keenum said he instructed his department heads at the beginning of this fiscal year to operate on the assumption that there would be a 5 percent cut before next July, when FY11 started. Three months into FY10, that became a reality.

“I’m not prepared for any other cuts,” Keenum said, “but I’ve been told that may become a reality (before the fiscal ¬†year ends).”

IHL Commissioner Dr. Hank Bounds was one of several state agency  heads who recently wrapped up their FY11 budget requests to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, in which all were told that the funding pool is already shallow and is almost guaranteed to continue to shrink.

Mississippi State’s enrollment is up 800 students over last year, which will make up about 40 percent of the shortfall left by the 5 percent in cuts, Keenum said. If cuts exceed 5 percent for the year, Keenum promised he would do “everything I can” to minimize the impact on MSU employees but did not rule out layoffs as a cost-cutting measure.

He also said he would not be in favor of implementing a hiring freeze. “We’re not going to let the quality of our product deteriorate. There’s not another state in the nation as dependent on higher education as Mississippi.”

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