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Colleges still uncertain on budget details


Though a tentative budget deal has been reached in Albany, the north country's colleges aren't sure what to make of it.

Sunday's deal restores $86 million to the State University of New York system that had been cut in earlier versions of the state budget. How that money will be divided up between campuses remains to be seen.

"It's the classic 'half an apple is better than none,'" SUNY Potsdam President John F. Schwaller said. "We're pleased that there was any restoration at all. The devil is in the details — we really won't know for a couple of weeks."

Though some of the money has been returned to higher education, SUNY's four-year schools will not see any of it.

The system's three teaching hospitals will see a restoration of $60 million of the $170 million that was to be cut from their budgets, in addition to the cuts from the universities attached to them. Like most other state agencies, the SUNY system was pegged to receive a 10 percent cut, or $100 million, with the additional cut out of the hospital budgets.

The teaching hospitals, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse; Downstate Medical University, Brooklyn, and Stony Brook Sciences, Long Island, cannot continue to function under those cuts. Instead, other four-year schools will likely have to cut from their budgets so more money can be sent to the medical centers.

To that end, SUNY Potsdamis expecting to lose between $500,000 and $750,000 on top of its expected $1.5 million to $2 million in cuts from its $38 million budget. SUNY Canton did not have an estimate for how much it may lose on top of its expected $800,000 in cuts.

Those cuts are getting increasingly more difficult to make, as colleges increase class sizes and reduce program offerings.

"We've got to pay the phone bill, we've got to make copies, we've got to deliver in the classroom. We're getting down to the bone," said Laura S. Rhodes, a biology professor and president of SUNY Potsdam's United University Professions union chapter. "We are nervously waiting to see what happens."

After the state Legislature passes a budget, the allocation to the SUNY system must be divided between campuses by central administration. Those final numbers will not be handed down for a few weeks, according to Mr. Schwaller.

The restoration also affects community colleges, which will see $18.2 million moved back into their coffers.

Community colleges will not have to help bridge the gap confronting the four-year schools and the hospitals because of differences in how their budgets are allocated, according to Jefferson Community College President Carole A. McCoy.

For the second year in a row, a "rational tuition plan" seems unlikely. Colleges and their students have been pushing for the legislature to adopt a five-year plan to map out tuition increases to help students and universities plan better, SUNY Potsdam senior Bradley J. Rooke said. Elected officials are saying they will consider tuition after the budget has been passed, but Mr. Schwaller and some of the students from his campus are not holding their breaths.

"My crystal ball is cloudy at the moment. I do know that, historically, things that are promised after budget are very, very difficult," Mr. Schwaller said. "Right now, we need to be quite candid and it's not looking good."

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