New initiative aims to cut departmental expenses

Ben Wolford

A university has a lot of expenses, not the least of which are Steinway pianos.

When $20,000 is on the inexpensive side for one of the instruments, smart spending is a priority in the Hugh A. Glauser School of Music.

As Kent State prepares to switch to the Responsibility Center Management budget model, the administration is looking to make smart spending everyone’s priority.

For his part, Tim Chandler, dean of the College of the Arts, said his college is taking donations of Steinway pianos to ease the cost to repairs on “the very elderly” pianos they have now.

“We’ve started to look at what I call the costs of doing business,” Chandler said.

And that’s exactly the goal of a commission orchestrated by Yank Heisler, interim vice president of administration. Its task, called the expense management initiative, is to compile opportunities for the university to operate more efficiently.

The 16-to-18-person commission will break down into teams that will examine spending in the areas of energy, travel, supplies, communication, transportation and memberships.

“We finished the year in an operating deficit,” Heisler said. “It looks like, as we go out into the ’09 forecast, we’re going to continue operating in a loss.”

But by rethinking where Kent State spends its money, Heisler said the forecast might be improved.

“I’ll tell you one very simple one: We are often asked to go to Columbus,” he said. “So, for 98 years, people have gotten in a vehicle and they’ve driven to Columbus. My contention is … don’t waste fuel. Stay where you are, we’re going to do a teleconference.”

If dozens of those types of changes are made all over campus, “it’s a lot of little ideas that, if you start adding them up, are real money,” Heisler said.

Daniel Mahony, dean of the College of Education, Health and Human Services, said he expects the initiative will have positive effects.

“They did some similar things when I was at the University of Louisville,” said Mahony, who was associate provost of academic planning and accountability there. He’s been at Kent State since July 1.

“They looked at expenses in different areas to see if we could find some ways to cut costs,” he said. “And we believed it would do that there, so it seems like it’s a good idea.”

The initiative is “tilling the earth,” as Heisler put it, for the implementation of the new budget model. The sowing of RCM will happen through the 2009 fiscal year.

RCM places more financial responsibility in the hands of deans, the theory being they know more about their spending needs than their higher-ups.

“Responsibility Center Management doesn’t create more money,” President Lester Lefton said. “It’s just (a change in) who’s going to control it and how it’s going to be spent.”

The hope is that the Expense Management Initiative will create the money.

“As you move into an RCM environment,” Lefton said, “don’t you want to cut your expenses because you get to keep the money?”

Contact principal reporter Ben Wolford at [email protected].