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Ridgewater loses $443K courtesy of Minnesota's budget cuts

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Ridgewater loses $443K courtesy of Minnesota's budget cuts
Morris Minnesota 607 Pacific Avenue 56267

WILLMAR -- Ridgewater College is losing $443,000 from its budget, due to Gov. Tim Pawlenty's unallotment of funds for state agencies.

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The $443,000 is about 2.73 percent of the college's base allotment for this school year, which is already half over.

Pawlenty announced last week that he would be cutting $20 million from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, part of a plan to deal with a state budget deficit of $426 million.

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Ridgewater officials learned of the college's share of the unallotment earlier this week, President Doug Allen said in a phone interview Wednesday morning. Decisions on how to cut the budget will be made over the next month.

"We will try to minimize the impact on students for the rest of the year," Allen said.

A news release from the college laid out the three core principles that will guide the budget decisions. Choices will be made in a way that best serves students, that considers the economic development needs of the state and the area, and that positions the system and the college for long-term financial viability.

Allen said he asked staff members to watch their budgets without hurting programs in the past few months, in anticipation of state budget problems.

"The employees have been great in terms of holding off on spending," Allen said, but more sweeping measures will be needed to make up for the loss through the governor's unallotment.

Allen said faculty and students won't be back on campus until the second week in January. He has sent out some internal communications, and employees are responding with ideas.

The cutbacks are likely to include a combination of measures, like increasing efficiency, not filling vacant positions and using reserves to make up for some of the loss, he said.

Allen said he does not want to drain the school's reserve funds, though, because he expects to see more cuts in the next two-year state budget cycle. His goal is to maintain the school's operation at its current level as much as possible.

"Realistically, am I going to be able to do that? It depends on what the next biennium brings," he said.

Allen has asked his administrators to plan budgets for the coming years that reflect cuts of 5 percent, 10 percent and 15 percent. The state is facing a two-year projected deficit of about $4.7 billion, in addition to the $426 million that must be handled before the fiscal year ends on June 30.

Tuition increases are possible in the future but won't happen in the current school year. Allen said he doesn't believe future increases will be as large as those of a few years ago.

"The Board of Trustees has been clear they don't have an appetite for large tuition increases," he said, and the Legislature doesn't want to see that, either.

"It's going to be very difficult," Allen said. "Everybody's worried in this economy; we just have to do the best we can."

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