UT-Arlington asks nearly 250 employees to take buyouts

ARLINGTON -- The University of Texas at Arlington is offering nearly 250 buyouts to nonfaculty employees to help the university cut more than $9 million from its fiscal 2011 budget, university President James Spaniolo said Thursday.

In a letter to employees, Spaniolo warned that further reductions might be necessary.

The action is in response to orders from Austin to all state agencies, universities and courts to cut spending in anticipation of a state budget shortfall of at least $11 billion -- and possibly as much as $20 billion -- because of the economic downturn.

Under the plan announced Thursday, UTA will offer eligible employees $20,000 or half of the employee's base annual salary as of May 31, whichever is greater, minus the required taxes. Eligible employees will have 65 days to consider the offer and submit a separation agreement.

Faculty, deans, assistant deans and some other employees are not eligible for the offer. Of the employees who are eligible, the university needs 247 to accept buyouts, a university spokeswoman said.

"Budget reductions are never easy, and our current situation is no exception," Spaniolo said in his letter.

"I must stress that the Voluntary Separation Incentive Program is one of several possible options to reduce the university's budget for fiscal year 2011.

"Depending on the effectiveness of the program, we may need to consider further staff reductions."

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, said UTA is doing the best it can in a trying situation.

"UTA is doing everything it can to continue its educational mission while facing severe economic challenges," she said in an e-mail. "Past legislative leaders have failed Texas families by withdrawing state support of our public institutions, placing that financial burden in the hands of working families at the worst possible time."

Other cost-savings measures are being taken, said Kristin Sullivan, a UTA spokeswoman. Senior administrators have not received a pay raise this year, and staff has been asked to avoid overnight travel when possible, she said.

The university hopes some new energy contracts will save money, and the administration is reviewing some open positions, hoping to combine duties rather than hire employees, Sullivan said.

"We have been blessed in Texas in that the state continues to invest in its universities," she said. "But the state will have less money next year. Tax revenues are down."

To qualify for the buyout, employees and their supervisors must agree on a mutually acceptable date for the employee's separation or retirement on or before Aug. 31, the end of the current fiscal year, Spaniolo's letter stated.

The university does not expect all eligible employees to take the offer, and some in critical positions may be retained, Sullivan said.

"This has worked in the private sector, but this is the first time the university has tried anything like this," she said.

"We don't know how many will actually take the buyout offer."

In March, state universities announced tuition increases. At UT-Arlington, tuition and fees will increase 3.95 percent from $8,544 this school year to $8,882 next year, and 4.63 percent to $9,292 for 2011-12. That increase includes a fee approved by students in 2005 for a special events center.

At the University of Texas at Austin, about 100 students and staff rallied on campus in March to protest a 5.4 percent increase in tuition and fees. Protesters complained the quality of education was taking a back seat to the university's bottom line.

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752