Meeting the Challenge: M&O Budgets

The media is overflowing with information about, analyses of, opinions on, predictions concerning, and reactions to the ongoing struggles of the world’s economies. While financial systems and markets are adjusted, evaluated, trimmed, shifted, and otherwise shaped and repositioned in attempts to right the course, colleges and universities are not immune from the impact. The primary mission, however, must remain in place: educating students.

In light of the turbulent economy, schools are finding it necessary to reduce — or even slash — budgets in order to achieve their mission. When an institution’s budget is examined for cost-saving possibilities, the M&O budget is one area that finds itself in the spotlight. Finding the balance between reducing expenses and maintaining expected services is a challenge being met by creative, practical M&O managers with the cooperation of their administrations.

Administration Pitches In

At the University of Vermont (UVM) in Burlington, a “mini-bin” initiative is just one part of efforts by M&O staff to accomplish their goals within a reduced budget.

Under new procedures, UVM custodial staff will no longer empty wastebaskets in individual offices — a task which has been done daily. Instead, faculty and staff will store trash in their six-in.-high mini-bins and dispose of it themselves in a receptacle centrally located near their offices. A tent card that describes the new service in detail and indicates what day of the week individual offices will be cleaned accompanies the mini-bins. Employees will also be responsible for carrying their recyclable material such as paper, bottles, and cans to a central bin. The centralized trash and recycle bins will be emptied daily, in partnership with the Custodial Services department.

In addition, custodial staff will clean offices and non-public conference rooms once a week instead of daily, but will spend more time on the job.

“I don’t know of any private or public institution these days that is providing premium custodial services every day to their offices,” said Leslye Kornegay, director of Custodial Services for UVM. “While at the time of the drive we needed to reduce the budget by a certain percentage, we also can have staff participate, and we were actually able to have an impact on sustainability as well.”

Faced with reducing her budget by 8.2 percent — roughly $400,000 — Kornegay also saw a chance to fine-tune her department.

“When we looked at the changes in service levels, it was an opportunity to do a restructuring, a ‘mini re-org,’ and look at the services we were outsourcing. In the past, rather than add staff when we got new buildings, we had some facilities that were outsourced. This was an opportunity to look at those areas, applying the same methodology, and bring those spaces back in house. So we actually increased our staff to support those areas we had historically outsourced,” she explained. And saved money while doing so.

“We think it was the right thing to do,” she said.

Support Counts
Administration expects their managers to evaluate and reduce budgets… and supports their efforts. Couple this with the cooperation and creativity of M&O staff, and the challenge is being met.

“It’s never easy or fun to manage through times of budget reductions,” said Jay Klingel, director, Operations and Maintenance for the University of Virginia (UVa), Charlottesville. “Those of us who have been in the business for some years have worked through similar situations. I’ve learned we are a resilient organization, and will manage through the economic tough times. Our senior administration recognizes the value of our staff and has been consistent in doing everything possible to protect our current workforce. With that vote of institutional confidence, people are willing to sacrifice during lean times, and think of creative ways to stretch funds.”

Klingel said that at UVa, his department has addressed reductions by reducing frequencies in grounds and custodial areas, deferring maintenance projects that otherwise would be completed, and cutting back on non-essential maintenance activities.

“We know we provide a critical service to the institution,” he said, “and we know we can count on the support of the administration to take ownership with us for our plans to meet budget realities.”

Continuous Improvement
At the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS), Gary Reynolds, executive director of Facilities Services, finds his department in a unique position. “The University’s leadership recognizes that the facilities staff is terribly understaffed and underfunded,” Reynolds observed. “Thus, while the University as a whole has taken significant reductions, the facilities department, so far, has had only minor budget cuts.” Reynolds added that although the state is discussing furloughs, higher education has been exempted. Also, Colorado has implemented a no-hire policy that is not being applied to higher ed.

Still, Reynolds and his staff are seeking out and implementing new efficiencies.

“There are several things we are doing,” he reported. “One, we switched our custodial hours to 4:00 A.M. to 12:30 P.M. Before, our hours were all over the place. This change allows us to have better oversight, get public areas cleaned before 8:00 A.M., and save energy by not having to run the buildings all night for the custodial staff.”

Reynolds said they are taking a closer look at the preventive maintenance program to ensure that equipment still runs efficiently. Also, they have started an internal review of processes, such as the work order system, to ensure that the right things are being done, and done right.

Another initiative has been noticed, Reynolds said. “We have set thermostats for the summer at 77°F. That has raised some eyebrows, but research shows that 77°F is in the middle of the comfort range when appropriately dressed and doing light activity (i.e. working at a desk).”

It All Comes Down to the Students
In the end, though, the focus of any cost-cutting efforts must keep one group in mind: the students.

“Alan Bigger and Jeff Campbell at APPA did a study (Cleanliness and Learning in Higher Education), and it was pretty clear that students really feel the impact to their quality of learning whenever their living space or their learning space receives any reduction in services,” Kornegay said. “So when we looked at services we wanted to minimize, we knew that the student areas — such as the public spaces, restrooms, classrooms, computer labs — were not the kind of areas we wanted to downsize.”

Despite a still gloomy economic outlook, the initiatives and efficiencies being developed and instituted by M&O departments on campuses across the country are doing their part to strengthen budgets while meeting administration, staff, and student expectations.

Kornegay agreed. “Overall, I think the reception has been good from staff and from the campus community. Where we do have opportunities, we’re working daily to rectify those opportunities. We know it’s going to be a continuous improvement initiative.”

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