OBSERVER Staff Writer
SUNY Fredonia President Virginia Horvath
With Gov. Andrew Cuomo releasing his proposed state budget, many school districts around the area are researching the amount of state aid they will receive. Primary education institutions are not the only ones affected by the budget; colleges receive funding from the state, including SUNY Fredonia.
SUNY Fredonia President Virginia Horvath has looked at Cuomo's proposed budget and believes it is "reassuring." In Cuomo's proposed budget are $55 million in competitive grants for SUNY schools as well as a plan to increase public college tuition. Horvath understands the governor is in a difficult position with the problems we face as a state.
"I heard just the other day about the short fall at the state level. They are having to work to address that and I think this governor has made it very clear he really wants us to have a balanced budget.
"It puts (the state) in a difficult position but I think they are doing their best to behave responsibly and communicate about what the state is and isn't able to support. I have sympathy for them for what happens when you have fewer dollars than you thought. I think the governor is doing the best he can in the shortfall situation to make sure state agencies are meeting the needs of people in the state," she continued.
The competitive grants are a part of the SUNY 2020 plan, a cooperative plan between the governor's office and SUNY colleges "to put state dollars behind the work universities are doing to make a difference in communities," Horvath said. The first round of grant money was for the bigger SUNY universities such as the University at Buffalo or University at Albany. The new money will be for second round of grants and will be available for comprehensive universities, such as Fredonia.
The grant SUNY Fredonia is seeking is for a research and learning center on Lake Erie with a partnership between SUNY Fredonia, the city of Dunkirk, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department and the state Department of Conservation. According to Horvath, the college has not heard the official word on the grant.
"We're still hopeful and think it's a great plan," she said. "I think the governor is eager ... for public universities to be taking a real stance to engage people in the community and have it make a difference."
The university is also looking for grants to be used for the Incubator. She said there will be some grants are available to promote small business development and the college will be looking into all options.
"We're trying to do anything we can to make sure we're funding and sustaining the work of the Incubator in Dunkirk," Horvath said. "When I think about things like the closing of Carriage House and ... Petri Baking, and all the efforts that Senator Cathy Young and others are going through to try to keep these businesses, at Fredonia we have a great opportunity to bring the resources of the university to have a real impact here in the community," she said.
The Incubator has 15 tenants currently and they are spending time to try to raise funds for those businesses. Horvath said if one third of those businesses succeed, that will be five new businesses in the area.
"That's the kind of thing we're hoping to do. We'll be looking in any pockets that we may think might have change in them to make sure we're working to make a difference in Dunkirk," Horvath said.
SUNY Fredonia is also in its third year of a five-year rational tuition plan which will increase tuition. Tuition for SUNY campuses is set by legislature following recommendations from the board of trustees.
"We know next fall that the tuition here at Fredonia will be $150 more each semester," Horvath said. "You think of the difference in operating costs ... for us just to meet the costs of operation and instruction (tuition increase) it's helpful for us. We were glad (Cuomo is) continually the commitment that was made for the rational tuition plan."
Horvath said the college is mindful of the tuition increases and use tuition to provide a good quality education for all students. The university also helps students with financial aid and paying for college.
"Our financial aid office does a terrific job helping students who are not able to make that tuition," she said.
Another aspect of the state budget the college is trying to interpret is the capital budget, Horvath said. A representative from SUNY will be talking specifically about SUNY Fredonia's campus and the building projects currently going on. Currently, the campus has several projects under construction that were under the last five-year strategic plan.
"Our understanding is that for those projects, the money has already been allocated. We'll just go forward on schedule as we have been," she said. "What we did hear, though, there is very limited new appropriations for capital projects in the new five year plan."
The current projects include the construction of the new science center as well as an addition to the Rockefeller Arts Center. Horvath is optimistic those projects will continue as planned. Horvath did not have complete details but said future projects may have to be placed on hold.
"When we have construction, that's jobs for people in our area. ... It's another way to spur economic development. It takes a lot of labor to get those buildings down," she said.
Horvath commended interim Vice President for Administration Karen Porpiglia for her work with the budgeting process.
"Karen Porpiglia has done a wonderful job for making sure we were prepared for some of these short falls and that we were really watching our spending, leaving positions open and just anticipating that things wouldn't be strong," she said. "If we built our budget for this year on the idea there was growth in the state and we'd have additional money, we'd be in trouble. We expected that there were cuts and it was (Karen's) budgeting and her oversight that really left us in a good position."
SUNY takes information based on the proposed budget and will allocate the funds among the SUNY campuses throughout the state. SUNY Fredonia is waiting for those numbers and the budget was announced in time to give Fredonia "plan well" for next year.
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