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Georgia colleges brace for state budget cuts

ATLANTA - Fewer police officers. More part-time faculty in the classroom. No computer upgrades. Not as many books and magazines in the library.

The budget reduction plans proposed by the state's colleges and universities paint a grimmer picture of campus life if they have to slash millions in expenses. Campuses across Georgia are bracing for the likely cuts as part of statewide plan to cope with shortfalls in tax revenue.

The state already has pulled $600 million out of reserves to balance last fiscal year's books. And now Gov. Sonny Perdue is asking every state department and agency to cut 3.5 percent from the budget for this fiscal year, which began July 1.

Campuses are preparing for possible layoffs because their budgets are eaten mostly in personnel costs. That would mean larger classes and fewer course offerings for the ever-increasing number of students enrolled around the state.

'We will not be able to provide the number of courses to meet the student demand,' said Arnett C. Mace Jr., senior vice president for academic affairs at the University of Georgia. 'We will increase class size. In some cases, we simply will not be able to offer courses. I expect this is going to increase time for a student to graduate.'

UGA would have to eliminate about 100 faculty and staff positions this year and another 120 next year, according to the plan it has submitted to the system office. The campus also would have to lay off seven police officers and cut $400,000 from its library budget.

Though the state has asked for 3.5 percent reductions, University System of Georgia Chancellor Erroll Davis required campuses to trim 5 percent from their spending. For UGA, that amounts to $20 million in cuts to its nearly $400 million in state funding.

At Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, the reduction means $5 million. The campus will meet that goal by delaying building maintenance, shuttering plans for new academic programs and cutting $1.4 million worth of jobs.

The 17,000-student campus also plans to cut $50,000 out of its mentor program, which is aimed at improving graduation rates by helping new students adjust to college life.

For Kennesaw State University, the state's third largest campus with 21,000 students in suburban Atlanta, the possible cuts would mean fewer security officers, academic advisers and staffers in the campus counseling office, President Dan Papp said. The university also would eliminate many vacant faculty positions and cut marketing budgets by $80,000 to achieve the needed $4.6 million in cuts, he said.

Kennesaw State already has to wait up to six years to update computer equipment, twice the recommended time for the quickly evolving technology on college campuses. That will only get worse with fewer dollars.

'We are falling behind, and we will fall ever farther behind,' Papp said. 'The cuts, if they happen, are going to be painful.'

The state Board of Regents will consider the budget cut proposals at its Aug. 20 meeting. After that, a system plan will be given to the governor's budget office for review.

State lawmakers will consider the cuts when it convenes in January.

Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley said the cuts are tough but necessary as the state and national economies continue to decline.

'It's no different than what Georgia families are doing right now,' Brantley said of the budget reductions. 'Obviously, people are dealing with high gas prices. It's taking more out of their budget, so they're having to cut in other areas.'

SideBar: At a glance

Here are a few of the cuts Georgia colleges and universities are considering to deal with expected reductions in state funding this year:

UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA (Athens):

· Eliminate 100 faculty and staff positions this year and another 120 next year

· Cut seven police officers

GEORGIA TECH (Atlanta):

· Cut building maintenance budget by $1.5 million

· Slash department budgets by $8 million

KENNESAW STATE UNIVERSITY (Kennesaw):

· Cut $85,000 from program that hires students to patrol campus as part of safety initiative

· Reduce equipment purchases across the campus by $500,000

GEORGIA SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY (Statesboro):

· Reduce faculty and staff travel budget by $62,000

· Cut funding for student mentor program by $50,000