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MnSCU May Send 6,000 Layoff Notices On Friday

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system will send layoff notices to 6,000 employees Friday if it can’t work out a deal to get access to its money during a looming state government shutdown, said Laura King, the system’s chief financial officer.

King told the MnSCU Board of Trustees during a special meeting Wednesday that the system has enough money in tuition and reserves to keep operating through the fall term.

However, the system’s accounting, payroll and other financial functions are within the state government. So if the government shuts down, she said, the system and its colleges and universities might do so as well.

King said the system was negotiating a deal that would pay the Minnesota Management and Budget department to stay open to handle MnSCU’s finances during a shutdown.

In a statement, Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter said his office is in discussions with MnSCU “to analyze possible options and authorities for service delivery in the event of a state shutdown.” King said she was confident the agreement would be reached.

If it happens before Friday, King said, the system won’t send out the layoff notices. If happens after Friday, those layoff notices will be canceled. If it doesn’t happen at all, campuses could close.

Those notices would go to unionized employees, including middle managers, clerical workers and groundskeepers, who have collective bargaining agreements requiring 21 days warning before layoffs, King said.

The budget talks between the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton have been deadlocked for weeks. Republicans insist spending can’t exceed $34 billion, but Dayton says that’s not enough. The state’s fiscal year runs out June 30, so the government could shut down July 1.

King said she couldn’t say exactly how much money MnSCU would have to operate without state higher education funding because there were too many factors involved, including how much tuition would be paid.

She said it was also unclear how well the system could function if the state’s computer network went dark in a shutdown. “This is a one-day-at-a-time deal,” King said.

Richard Davenport, president of Minnesota State University, Mankato, said closing the campuses on July 1 would directly harm the 67,000 students taking summer classes, but the aftershocks would last much longer.

He said 100,000 students were now signing up for the fall term and trying to file their financial aid paperwork. If those processes were interrupted, “it will cause a serious lag in the fall,” he said.

Davenport said anecdotal evidence suggested the uncertainty was hurting the system because colleges in other states were recruiting Minnesota students who were worried about being able to start in the fall.

Trustee Dan McElroy said, “This is not a few-month impact, this is a four- to six-year impact.”

The board approved a resolution Wednesday directing the administration to use whatever money was available to keep the system operating if the state shuts down. The resolution also directs the staff to begin the extensive planning needed to temporarily close down the system.

“We are optimistic that a budget agreement will be reached before June 30,” said MnSCU Chancellor James McCormick. “But we need to take steps now to prepare for any contingency.”

The MnSCU system includes 32 state universities and community and technical colleges around the state with more than 400,000 students taking credit and non-credit courses.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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