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GGC head reassures proposed cuts are 'worst case scenario'

LAWRENCEVILLE — Georgia Gwinnett College President Daniel Kaufman told faculty and staff members Thursday the proposed budget cuts released earlier this week are part of a "worst case scenario" plan asked for by the state's legislative budget committee.

In a campus meeting, Kaufman reassured the audience that no actual budgetary decisions have been made and likely will not be until May or June.

"We are in the early stages of the process," Kaufman said. "The University System of Georgia was asked by legislators to submit a plan if another $300 million in budget cuts becomes inevitable. The resulting document clearly indicated the seriousness of the situation, but it also served as a point at which to start the budgetary conversation, which as you know, is very difficult for everyone involved."

GGC's share of the anticipated $300 million cut in the state's higher education budget could be as high as $2.66 million — in addition to a previously proposed $4.3 million cut for fiscal year 2011, which begins July 1.

Meanwhile, Gov. Sonny Perdue pledged Thursday to protect the state's public colleges from deep cuts being pushed by state lawmakers that would force steep tuition hikes and would eliminate popular programs, like 4-H.

Perdue said his administration would ‘‘not dismantle a world-class university system we spent over two decades to build up.''

Speaking at a state Capitol news conference, the Republican governor blasted legislators for engaging in ‘‘scare tactics and fear mongering.''

Perdue's budget proposed cutting $265 million for the university system in the next fiscal year. State lawmakers have asked the Board of Regents to plan for $300 million in additional cuts on top of that.

To manage the additional cuts, GGC would have to eliminate 20 faculty and 12 staff positions, delay the start of its nursing program and cap enrollment at 3,000. Currently, GGC has about 3,400 students and expects a fall enrollment of 5,000.

"We've already worked hard to absorb GGC's portion of the initial $265 million budget cut already assigned to the university system for fiscal year 2011," Kaufman said.

The college's reduction in funding in Gov. Sonny Perdue's proposed 2011 budget means that the college will be unable to hire faculty necessary to support the anticipated 5,000 student population, purchase books for the new Library and Learning Center slated to open later this year, or make technological upgrades in classrooms, the news release states.

"These are challenging times for all of us. Until the members of the legislature approve a state budget and the Board of Regents decides how that money will be allocated, we are going to continue to operate as usual," Kaufman said. "Since our doors opened, the state has been in a financial downturn. From day one, we have enacted cost savings measures and will continue to do so.

"Our mission is to educate students and that is what we intend to do. We have a phenomenally dedicated faculty and staff of whom I am proud every day. I believe we will have 5,000 students on campus next fall and we will do whatever is necessary to see that they get the quality education they deserve."

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.