Money woes at Howard

Imagine your boss coming up to you and saying he was cutting your salary, only he wouldn’t say how much your salary was getting cut or even when the cuts would take effect.Now, try figuring out your household budget.That’s kind of the situation facing Howard College administrators as they start preparing their budget for the next fiscal year — they know they’re going to lose state appropriation money, but not how much or exactly when a final decision on those cuts will be handed down by state officials.College trustees will get a briefing on Howard’s financial status when they hold their monthly meeting at 12:30 p.m. Monday in the student union building’s Tumbleweed Room.Howard officials do have a worst-case scenario to go on, and it is fairly bleak — College President Dr. Cheryl Sparks learned Friday that the college district could lose between $900,000 and $1 million in state appropriations for the coming fiscal year.But all Sparks and her colleagues know for sure is that they will have to make do with less this coming budget cycle.“We are going to lose money this next year,” Sparks said. “We just haven’t received a final announcement on exactly how much we’ll lose.”The major reason for the loss in revenue can be traced to a change state education officials made in the way they dole out allocations to Texas community colleges. In the past, the state would look at a community college’s contact hours (the total amount of times students were in classes or labs) for the year immediately preceding the biennial session of the Texas Legislature and use that to determine the school’s allocation for the next two years.However, allocations will be determined on a year-by-year basis from now on, which could put some community colleges in an immediate financial bind.“We did see a decrease in our contact hours this past year, which will result in a smaller allocation from the state,” Sparks said. “This is not a good thing for Howard College.”Complicating matters is that Howard’s state allocations have been shrinking for the past three years. The state’s general revenue allocation has dropped 15 percent during that time, and the share of employees’ benefits the state pays has dropped from 85 percent three years ago to 40 percent today.This means that after three years of trimming their budget, college administrators will have to cut even more to make ends meet this coming fiscal year.“Any loss will be very difficult to deal with,” Sparks said. “There’s just not a lot of play in the budget … In the past few years, every time a position came open, if we were able to freeze the position, we would. In some instances, we’ve added duties to positions or reassigned people within the district. We’re seeking grant money to help offset costs and we’ll continue to do all of this during this process, but there’s not any fluff in our budget.”This is some hope for relief, although it is far from a certainty.“I do believe there’s a strong possibility the state coordinating board will adopt a “hold harmless” provision (to ease the transition to the new budgeting formula),” Sparks said. “We just don’t know how much of a percentage of the allocation that will effect.”In other business Monday, trustees will consider:• Updates on construction projects at Howard’s San Angelo campus and at the Big Spring campus’ agriculture complex.• Reports on the associate degree nursing and fire science programs.• Bids and handbook and catalog changes.Contact Staff Writer Steve Reagan at 263-7331 ext. 235 or by e-mail at