Subscribe for 17¢ / day

The Montana Board of Regents approved Thursday an anticipated budget reduction for the university system that amounts to 1 percent a year for the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years, or $2.2 million a year.

This past year, state revenue has come in lower than expected, and the Montana Legislature held a special session in November to address the shortfall. The decline amounts to some $643,000 a year for the University of Montana and $665,000 for Montana State University-Bozeman.

The regents, who met via teleconference, also heard an update on the campaign to pass the six mill levy, a measure that's been placed on the ballot and approved by voters every 10 years since 1948. Regent Bob Nystuen said the levy provides a critical $20 million a year for the Montana University System and its 45,000 students and 8,000 employees.

Nystuen, who offered an update on the campaign, has said it's important that voters know the levy isn't new and doesn't represent a new tax. Thursday, he said the MEA-MFT labor union has agreed to match support for the campaign with up to $500,000, "a big number," and the campaign is seeking the dollars for the match across the state.

"We're off to a good start here. We will be having a meeting soon and actually discussing our achievement of that particular goal," Nystuen said.

In a brief update, Commissioner Clayton Christian praised MSU for maintaining its high bond rating. Moody's offered MSU an Aa3 grade with a stable outlook, and S&P Global gave MSU an A+ with a positive outlook, according to the Commissioner's Office.

"That is a pleasant anomaly in higher education," said Christian, who noted the industry as a whole was recently downgraded from stable to negative.

In 2015, Moody's affirmed UM's rating at Aa3, and UM vice president of finance Rosi Keller said that's the most recent grade because that's when UM last issued debt.

At the meeting, Deputy Commissioner for Human Resources Kevin McRae said collective bargaining for some 4,000 faculty and staff is underway, and he anticipates the regents will receive contracts at their March or May meeting. He confirmed the bargaining has been taking place later in the calendar year over the last couple of years because an implementation date has been delayed.

Regent Bill Johnstone, who had requested an update on negotiations, asked that the process be accelerated in the future, although he said he wasn't faulting any particular party.

"I am concerned that these delays are not a very effective way in which we promote good labor relations and relations with our employees," Johnstone said.

In other business, the regents also:

  • updated the philanthropic naming policy to add a public comment session: "A public session will be convened by board staff in the community to collect public comment concerning the naming. No deliberations will be conducted at the separate public session."
  • approved an agreement outlining the partnership between UM and the UM Foundation: "This Agreement is intended to set forth policies and procedures that will contribute to the coordination of their mutual activities."
  • authorized Montana State University-Billings Foundation to enter into an agreement with Montana State University-Billings, and approved an agreement between Helena College and the Helena College Foundation.
  • approved updated "core themes" for UM. President Seth Bodnar said he has reviewed the core themes and believes they are in line with the vision for UM.