2008-09 budget unraveled at LB meeting

By Zac Farber

Macalester’s 2008-09 operating budget of $81.85 million is a 6.4 percent increase from the 2007-08 budget. The additional funds will go toward raising work-study wages by about 30 cents per hour and will finance 15 more semester slots for study away.The budget, presented to the Legislative Body Tuesday night by David Wheaton, vice president for administration and finance, will set aside $3 million in reserve.

This reserve money, about twice as much as the amount set aside in 2007-08, was designed, Wheaton said, as a contingency plan for a host of costly events: lower than expected student enrollment, higher than expected financial aid demand, the falling value of the U.S. dollar in the world market, a looming national economic downturn and rising energy costs.

Not all of these incidents are expected to occur, Wheaton said, reminding the Legislative Body, “The college is financially sound.”

The 2007-08 budget will include new positions in the areas of sustainability and web assistance in the library.

The work-study program will receive $2.9 million, 15 percent more than in 2007-08; the study away program will be $3.6 million, a 13 percent jump.

Wheaton said students can expect to receive a 35-cent-per-hour raise in 2009-10, a two-year, 65-cent increase in the average student work-study wage.

Staff salaries and benefits are another expense on the rise. Staff base salaries are 4 percent higher than in 2007-08. Wheaton cited the rising cost of health care as a major factor in the upward spiral of the budget and of student tuition.

“It is the single item,” he said, “that I would say has grown the fastest in the last ten years except for study away.”

Wheaton expressed regret over the persistent swelling of the college’s operating budget.

“The upward pressure across this industry has been more inexorable than it needs to be,” he said.