Members of the Western New Mexico University board of regents approved an amended fiscal year 2020-21 budget and voted to continue advancing the university toward its energy efficiency goals during a meeting on Thursday morning. They also heard from WNMU President Dr. Joseph Shepard, who reported on the university’s plans to reopen using a hybrid model this fall.
“We will not create a zero probability of COVID, but we can be prudent,” he said. “All of this could change on a dime, based on the governor’s orders.”
The board approved a fiscal year 2020-21 budget adjustment request to reduce the state appropriation based on House Bill 1 passed in the 2020 Special Legislative Session. Decreases were made to the Instruction and General fund, athletics and public service for a total decrease of $2,344,900. The amended budget removes 4% compensation increases provided in House Bill 2 during 2020 Legislative Session, and reduces other expenses to offset loss in revenue.
“My issue is not this budget. My issue is next year’s budget,” President Shepard said. “We need to be thinking ahead to January and February of the next legislative session and more importantly to the next fiscal year, which is why we’re going through program prioritization.”
Dr. Mary Hotvedt, the newest member of the board, said that while the planned faculty and staff raises were not possible this year, “We are committed as a university to maintaining the level of insurance coverage at 80% for faculty and staff.”
The New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship will still be funded, although in a lesser way. “It was reduced from $12 million to $5 million. The higher education department is running those numbers and what it means in terms of allocation. Because we offer certificates and associate degrees, we’ll be eligible to receive some of those funds,” President Shepard said.
The board also approved capital project transmittal for an energy performance project. The campus wide program that adds LED lighting, addresses air leakage, updates HVAC systems and controls, includes two solar carport structures, optimizes kitchen ventilation in dining hall. “We’re estimating a 25-year pay back with 2.84% interest, leaving us with a university annual capital contribution of $85,000, which we’d be able to handle without any concerns from me,” Vice President for Business Affairs Kelley Riddle said.
Student Regent Tim Stillman, who had moved to table this item at the previous meeting, said his questions were and concerns alleviated after meeting with the project engineers. “I didn’t understand some of the language, but I do now, and I support this project,” he said.
Regent Chair Jerry Walz asked whether it’d be better to wait to implement such a project, given rapid technological advancements to solar energy in particular. “The project wouldn’t be approved by the state if they felt these items would die out sooner than our financing would,” Riddle replied.
President Shepard expressed his desire to move WNMU to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification and carbon neutrality. “Instead of giving it to the utility company, let’s give it to ourselves. We as a university are moving forward in green energy and environmental sustainability,” he said.
Dr. Shepard asked both the Faculty and Staff presidents to present the work their respective task forces are doing to review programs and assess each departments’ contributions toward the overarching WNMU mission and goals.
The faculty’s Program Review Methodology Committee is meeting weekly throughout summer to develop a process around program prioritization. “Knowing we will have extreme budget deficits, are there programs we need to take a second look at? There are ten criteria we’re reviewing. We have great documentation from 2014 when this was last done at WNMU,” said Dr. Susan McFeaters, who heads the task force.
Staff Senate President Michael Acosta said he is also leading a committee in program review and restructuring.
In accordance with the protocols intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the meeting was held over Zoom. The board will meet next on July 20, when the regents also have a workshop planned.