Showdown over deficit looms

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By Graeme Smith

Paul Martin won praise for balancing his budget, but Ryerson president Claude Lajeunesse might not be showered with applause when he tries to balance the university’s books this spring.

The school is losing money. Ryerson’s interim budget statement showed the school is over its projected 1997-98 budget by $1 million.

The bulk of this deficit stems from money paid in salaries and benefits, following an interim contract settlement with faculty in October.

Lajeunesse said some of this year’s money saving cuts were too harsh. When Ryerson shut down for two weeks last Christmas it saved on maintenance bills, Lajeunesse said, but temporarily closing the school was “not fair to the researchers and those involved with the university.”

“It was a bit of a desperate measure,” said Lajeunesse. “We simply can’t do that again.”

The shutdown meant savings to general operating costs and maintenance, which Lajeunesse said constitutes only 16 per cent of Ryerson’s total budget.

“When you’re down to that, it means that 16 per cent, well, you’ve done all you can with it [in terms of cuts],” said Lajeunesse.

That means administration will have to cut its spending from salaries, which Lajeunesse said makes up the remaining 84 per cent of Ryerson’s expenses.

Ryerson’s contract negotiations with the Ryerson Faculty Association (RFA) are due to start this week. The faculty’s contract expires June 30.

The school’s deficit could make the upcoming negotiations tense, said RFA president Joe Springer. “I know a rough patch is coming up, but I think we can work this out together,” he said. “I hope like hell we can get over this contract hurdle.”

Even though the school is losing money, Springer said finances are better than in previous years. In 1991-92, for example, Ryerson lost $6.7 million.

“We need to take this window of opportunity to make sure Ryerson goes into the next 50 years positively,” he said.

For Springer, this means getting more money for faculty. “Ryerson is one of the worst-paid faculties in Canada,” he said. “Certainly we’re by far the lowest in Ontario.”

In 1995-96, Statistics Canada reported Ryerson pays faculty 12.5 per cent less than the provincial mean.

But John McGowan, RyeSAC’s VP finance and development worries a faculty raise would hike tuition.

“If the RFA asks for more money, with the government cuts, it’s going to come from the students,” he said.

Ryerson’s current fiscal year ends March 31 and the new budget is expected in April.

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