Furloughs and football: Boise State leaders discuss an uncertain fiscal future

When it comes to football, Boise State University officials are predicting a return to the blue turf.

When it comes to furloughs, or layoffs, the picture is much less clear.

Boise State administrators spent an hour discussing the future with university employees during a virtual town hall Thursday. Leadership encouraged employees to remain resilient, and sought to try to ease fears about job losses.

But there were more questions than answers. Boise State has “no plans for university-wide layoffs and terminations,” associate vice president Shawn Miller said. But targeted job cuts are a possibility. A second round of furloughs is also possible, acting provost Tony Roark said — and these furloughs could affect faculty as well as staff.

The town hall came two days after President Marlene Tromp sent a grim budget update to the university community, describing job cuts and operations cuts as inevitable.

The state funding prospects aren’t encouraging. Previous budget reductions and holdbacks have cut $7.5 million from the university’s budget, chief financial officer Mark Heil said. Heil said he’s been told to brace for a smaller state appropriation from Gov. Brad Little and the 2021 Legislature, and Heil said he’s heard no talk of using state budget reserves to make up the difference.

“We’re going to have to manage through the budget that we get,” he said.

In the face of limited state funding, enrollment will be even more important to Boise State, which already gets more than half of its appropriation from tuition and fees. This fall’s enrollment appears to be up slightly — which is “absolutely amazing,” since many other colleges and universities are facing sharp enrollment drop-offs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

University officials emphasized the need for focus.

Next summer, Boise State will need to file its program prioritization report with the State Board of Education. The report is due every five years, and Roark said this document will complement the university’s in-house strategic planning efforts.

Boise State University will look for grants and donor support to offset another round of anticipated state budget cuts, President Marlene Tromp said Thursday.

Tromp said she doesn’t want her leadership team to simply “turn down the dial on spending.” Instead, she wants the university looking for ways to get stronger.

“We are not just going to make cuts,” she said. “We are going to make investments.”

Boise State coaches and athletic staff are absorbing $1.8 million in furloughs and salary cuts, the Idaho Press reported Wednesday, and athletic department losses could reach $30 million if the football season is scrubbed. But with the Big Ten conference planning to begin play in October, and the Pac-12 conference looking at a possible reopening, Athletic Director Curt Apsey said the Mountain West Conference could return to the field as well.

“I’m more confident and more positive than I’ve ever been,” he said.

Kevin Richert

About Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on KIVI 6 On Your Side; "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television; and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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