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ORONO, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- University of Maine system trustees have approved a five-year plan aimed at shrinking the projected $69 million budget hole, but it could be a painful process.

Job cuts are likely on the way for hundreds of UMaine system employees.

The system has been dealing with flat state funding, declining enrollment and tuition freezes over the past several years, but the plan that the board of trustees has approved is a first step in addressing the budget shortfall.

"If you're going to make reductions, you're inevitably going to be looking at positions," Chancellor James Page said.

The board of trustees approved a budget in May that cut 157 positions, about one-fifth of the total cuts needed to reduce a large part of the projected $69 million deficit by 2019.

"That's a very serious matter. That's a lot of positions," Page said. "These are people who work very hard for the students in the system, but we're just at a point where we have to reduce our size in order to meet our fiscal responsibilities."

The plan trustees approved yesterday does not lay out how to reduce the deficit line-by-line, but it does recognize a need for change. The system is looking to grow Maine's degree-holding population, which is smaller than the rest of New England.

"When you're behind your region, you do suffer economically, so our goal is to really make education accessible, affordable, certainly very high quality, and have it relevant and have people in Maine really want to get education, because they see it as the best way forward," University of Maine President Susan Hunter said.

A huge challenge will be making the necessary cuts to close the deficit, while still maintaining the current quality of education.

"Nobody would set out with a plan of wanting to weaken education or weaken service, but thinking how we do things and how might we do them differently," Hunter said. "Different is hard for all of us, but different is probably going to be the name of the game."

The system has not created a specific timeline as to when job cuts will be made, but all future budget changes must comply with this new plan up until at least 2019.

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