KEARNEY — The University of Nebraska at Kearney announced Friday that more than a dozen staff positions had been cut, which is the first step in overcoming a $2.8 million budget deficit for the Kearney school outlined and affirmed by the University of Nebraska Board of Regents.

A total of 15 state-funded salary positions — five filled and 10 vacant — were cut Wednesday, adding up to $800,000 in state-funded salary and benefit savings.

“There are few things that are more difficult than sharing the news with colleagues that we can no longer afford their position,” UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen said in a press release. “We have known that budget reductions are imminent, and that a long-term view is important to emerge following these challenges in a position of strength.”

According to UNK Vice Chancellor for Business and Finance Jon Watts, two other filled positions were cut this week as the university seeks to strategically reorganize and combat other financial losses from the pandemic.

“It’s about realigning workforce expectations and our goals in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Watts said. “It’s not life as normal. It’s not business as usual. Some positions, we just had to realign and we had to put those resources where they could be better utilized.”

The NU Board of Regents determines how much state revenue is provided for UNK’s budget, Watts explained, but UNK also gets funding from “auxiliary operations,” such as housing students during the school year or hosting conferences.

UNK also has experienced a loss of revenue in these areas. For example, in March, the university offered students a 60 percent prorated refund on housing costs, and for the past two months, Watts said UNK has received no camp or conference revenue.

“There are a number of other things that the university does to generate revenue that have suffered significantly,” Watts said.

Anticipating a financial impact when the coronavirus hit earlier in the year, Watts said the university took steps to reduce costs.

“We were really intentional about trying to do everything we could to hold positions so that when we did have to make a reduction in force, it would impact as few people as possible currently sitting in jobs,” Watts said.

In February, UNK began “holding positions” and in March it announced a hiring freeze.

Staff members also will not receive an annual pay raise this year, though faculty, per their bargaining agreement, will receive a 1.3 percent increase.

In late May, the university introduced a voluntary reduction-in-work program, which would allow full-time employees to reduce their hours from full time to a 0.75 full-time equivalent, while maintaining benefits. Watts said UNK had 30 workers express interest in the program and three who accepted voluntary reduction.

“Just over 80 percent of our budget is personnel,” Watts said. “So there really is just no quick way for a university to cut expenditures without impacting people.”

According to a UNK press release, the next phase of the budget cut process is the creation of a Faculty Advisory Committee, which will provide feedback and recommendations to campus administration.

Watts confirmed the creation of the committee opens the door for reductions in faculty positions. The last time such a committee was formed was in 2003.

“It is an incredibly rare step, but I think this pandemic has impacted higher education to such an extent that we have to make sure that we are working collaboratively with our bargaining unit,” he said.

UNK has approximately 781 benefit-eligible employees. Of those, 451 are considered staff and 330 are faculty, according to a UNK press release. The faculty group includes appointed lecturers, tenure track professors, tenured professors and deans. Faculty are a part of a collective bargaining unit represented by the University of Nebraska at Kearney Education Association.

Full-time employees who were informed their positions were being eliminated this week were immediately relieved of their duties, but they continue receiving pay and benefits for 90 days.

The UNK positions announced Friday for elimination include these filled positions:

-  Research compliance manager

-  Business technology analyst

-  Office associate, Admissions

-  Office/accounts assistant (.5 Academic Advising/Career Development; .5 Business/Finance)

-  Programmer analyst

Vacant positions or portions of positions reduced were:

-  Library serials assistant

-  Library access services associate

-  Asst. director digital learning spaces

-  Instructional designer

-  Undergraduate admissions recruiter

-  Center for Teaching Excellence

-  Custodian – 3 positions

-  Budget office assistant

According to reporting from the Omaha World-Herald, the Board of Regents has predicted a $43 million, three-year shortfall for the entire university system. They unanimously approved the 2020-21 operating budget Friday during a two-hour, 20-minute meeting held remotely because of coronavirus concerns.