Important COVID-19 updates and decisions
Dear Skidmore staff and faculty,
As I have reported to our community before the current global COVID-19 crisis began, ensuring our continued financial sustainability will require difficult decisions, moving us away from "business as usual." This crisis has exacerbated those difficulties. We lost significant revenue in the current semester, including $4.5 million in refunds of room and board charges. The cancellation of our summer programs and events means the additional loss of budgeted income of more than $2 million, and our endowment is currently down more than 10%.
Nevertheless, the College's preliminary operating budget for the next fiscal year (FY 2020-21) is projected to be balanced, and we anticipate that it will be approved by the Board of Trustees in May. For comparative purposes, this operating budget still includes revenues from summer operations and assumes a typical fall semester, neither of which will hold true in the coming year. As a result, we will need to identify additional savings from the FY 2020-21 operating budget to offset the lost summer revenue and to hedge against possible additional losses in the fall.
Many of our new and returning students' families will likely be affected by the severe economic downturn, almost certainly resulting in the need for more financial aid than previously projected. Considering the unpredictable effects of the pandemic, we need to develop academic, residential life, and financial contingency plans for the coming academic year.
To that end, I have charged Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Orr to work in collaboration with the appropriate governance bodies to convene an academic planning working group to develop more detailed options for the coming academic year. In addition, we should be prepared for multiple financial and operational scenarios that may call for a variety of cost-saving measures, such as voluntary salary reductions for certain employees and changes to employee health insurance cost-sharing.
Even as we think about longer-term plans, the COVID-19 crisis requires immediate action. I am writing to let you know of the steps we have been and will be taking.
Following Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive order that required social distancing measures and mandated that all non-essential employees work from home beginning March 22, Skidmore continued to pay all members of the faculty and staff, regardless of their ability to work remotely. We recognize that some College employees cannot work remotely for all their scheduled hours. For others, their work has changed because of the COVID-19 crisis, or their jobs are affected by the cancellation of on-campus summer programs and events.
After discussions with President’s Cabinet, the Institutional Policy and Planning Committee (IPPC), the Board of Trustees, and other faculty and staff leadership groups, Skidmore will, beginning on May 1, start temporarily furloughing some employees, based on the area and nature of their work.
It is important to understand the difference between furloughs and layoffs. A furlough is a temporary arrangement that involves reduced or no work hours, with employees expected to return to their regular schedule after a certain time. Unlike a furlough, a layoff means the loss of a job and associated benefits.
All partially or wholly furloughed Skidmore employees will retain their full health insurance benefits. Those employees should be eligible for assistance under the recently passed national stimulus package, known as the CARES Act, that provides $600 weekly, on top of the standard unemployment benefits from the state. The federal assistance through the CARES Act is available until July 31.
We understand that applying for unemployment will be new for many of our employees, and there are reported delays in receiving the funds due to the system's technical capacity. If employees experience delays in applying for unemployment benefits, Human Resources will work with individual employees on possible remedies, which may include requesting an advance from the College on future pay or accruals.
Human Resources will work with President's Cabinet and supervisors to evaluate the nature of the work and furlough options for each area. Once the evaluation is complete, supervisors will provide more information directly to the individuals affected, who will receive guidance, further instructions, and assistance with the process from Human Resources. The details of any furloughs for union positions will be negotiated with the unions. Under the current plan, if the crisis eases without further negative impact on the College's budget, academic programs, and operations, furloughed employees will be expected to resume their regular assignments and work schedules on August 1.
The College will also immediately implement the following measures:
- We will institute a hiring freeze for all unfilled staff and faculty positions, with very few exceptions for critical and strategic purposes. Any exceptions will need to be recommended by a vice president and approved by me. We will also suspend promotions, except for those pending final Board approval in May and those resulting from upcoming tenure reviews.
- There will be a salary freeze or, in other words, no general salary adjustment (GSA) for FY 2020-21.
- The current maximum of two weeks' vacation carryover from one fiscal year to the next will remain in effect this year. However, vacation carryover will be reduced to a maximum of one week for the fiscal year beginning in June 2021.
- All budget managers have been asked to continue closely managing operating budgets to maximize savings on non-essential expenses for the rest of the current fiscal year ending on May 31. They will be asked to maintain similar oversight of budgets during FY 2020-21, especially this summer.
- Construction projects in progress, such as the several phases of the Center for Integrated Sciences, the Annex, and the Center in Case, or those under contractual obligation, will continue. Other projects, including the athletics facilities project and the relocation of the Greenberg Child Care Center, have been postponed until further notice.
These steps will no doubt present varying levels of difficulties to all members of our community. I ask you to join me in my strong belief that if we take these measures now, the tradeoff will be progress toward managing the immediate crisis we are facing. Nevertheless, we will continue to face significant challenges. For Skidmore to remain financially strong for years to come, and to achieve our larger institutional priorities, we will need to consider additional actions regarding both our operations and staffing.
I am very grateful for the countless ways members of our community have pulled together, making significant adjustments during the transition to remote learning and working, supporting one another, and showing remarkable strength and creativity in the face of these unprecedented times.
Thank you for your understanding and perseverance.
Philip A. Glotzbach