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Sonoma State faces $4.6 million deficit

Sonoma State University administrators and faculty leaders met Thursday in what has become a routinely grim process: reviewing the university's fiscal situation in the face of continued budget cuts.

The school now is wrestling with a $4.6 million deficit after temporary state funding cuts of $2.3 million were made permanent in January, said SSU's financial chief, Larry Furukawa-Schlereth.

“We had not planned for that,” he said. “That is a huge challenge.”

About $1.6 million of the shortage has been made up through freezing at least 10 positions that became vacant, he said, and the much of the remainder will be addressed the same way.

Furukawa-Schlereth said the university's best option is to reduce staffing through attrition, but noted that is a strategy that “at some point will not be viable anymore.”

The university's budget — including its allocation from the state and its tuition and fees revenue — is roughly $91 million.

Provost Andrew Rogerson contributed one of the few positive notes, saying that the university had reduced its enrollment to a set target, thus dodging a potential $1 million fine from the California State University system.

The CSU sets enrollment targets and holds out the threat of steep fines if they are exceeded as an incentive for campuses to live within their budget allocations. Six campuses were penalized this year, including Northridge, which was fined $7 million, Rogerson said.

The 23-campus system also faces an additional $200 million cut if voters in November reject taxes Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed, said Furukawa-Schlereth.

That would require in an additional $4.6 million cut in SSU spending.

Budget decisions often have been controversial on the campus, with critics charging that President Ruben Armiñana has excluded faculty from the process and cut educational areas when administration and capital projects should have been targeted.

At Thursday's meeting, anthropology professor John Wingard urged that “as this goes forward, that the whole process be as transparent as possible and have as many voices involved as possible.”

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.

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