Budget gridlock could cost Penn State 1,100 jobs

"This is an incredibly serious issue," President Eric Barron told the university's board of trustees during its monthly meeting.

HERSHEY - Pennsylvania State University will lay off 1,100 employees and shut down its agricultural extension offices this summer if the state doesn't soon release its funding, president Eric Barron warned Friday.

"This is an incredibly serious issue," Barron told the university's trustees.

His prediction, delivered during the board's monthly meeting, was among the most dire in the eight-month budget impasse, one that has particularly punished Pennsylvania's four state-related universities. The freeze has cost Penn State, Temple University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Lincoln University about $600 million in anticipated funding for this fiscal year.

Without its $46 million appropriation for agricultural programs, Barron said, the university will be forced to shutter extension offices statewide - which serve as research centers and liaisons to the farming community - and cut staff and eliminate 4-H and Master Gardener programs.

The 4-H programs serve 90,000 students, said Rick Roush, Penn State's dean of the college of agricultural sciences.

Barron said the university would have to notify affected employees by May 1 and that, if the gridlock persists, the closures would take effect July 1, when the new fiscal year begins. "There's no sign that next year will be easier in this process," he said.

Barron also warned that summer programs that serve at-risk students on campus and other efforts to boost graduation rates could be in jeopardy. The funds for the programs come from a $150 million reserve that will need to be returned if Penn State doesn't get its basic subsidy.

Last week, Barron and leaders from the other three schools released a statement urging Gov. Wolf and state legislators to reach a deal. They also will be heading to Harrisburg on Wednesday for hearings on next year's budget, despite still waiting for the money from this one.

Wolf has proposed a boost in education funding, but also wants tax increases to pay for it.

Russell Redding, his agricultural secretary and a member of the board of trustees, urged university officials to keep pressing to make clear what is at stake.

"I remain hopeful," Redding said, ". . . but it's getting critical."

The trustees also on Friday voted to spend $7.5 million to tighten security at the three main recreation facilities on the University Park campus - the White Building, the McCoy Natatorium, and Rec Hall.

The vote is the latest step to increase security in the years since former football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of being a serial sex abuser. But the scandal wasn't the driving force behind the move.

Officials have cited thefts at the buildings and confrontations between students and community residents who use the gym.

Under the plan, only students, faculty, staff, trustees, and retirees with valid university identification will be allowed to use the recreational facilities on campus. Each will be permitted to bring in one guest, but will be responsible for that guest.

ssnyder@phillynews.com215-854-4693 @ssnyderinq

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