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NDUS leaders, NDSU Student Government oppose funding formula amendments in bill

BISMARCK -- North Dakota University System leaders are calling on lawmakers to restore the state's higher education budget in the wake of new amendments that could trim millions of dollars from what campuses will receive over the next two years.

In a message Wednesday to members of the House Appropriations Committee, Chancellor Hamid Shirvani and State Board of Higher Education President Duaine Espegard said they continue to back the funding plan in Gov. Jack Dalrymple's budget recommendations last fall and urged committee members to "lend your support" to the plan.

"At a minimum, it is imperative to provide funding to address employee salary and benefit adjustments," they wrote. "These adjustments are essential to recruiting and retaining highly qualified faculty and staff, the underpinning of a great University System."

On Monday, the House Appropriations subcommittee on education added several amendments to the higher education funding package known as Senate Bill 2003. Amendments trim the amount of money set aside to cover increased operating costs such as salaries and inflation.

The subcommittee also cut a provision authored by Sen. Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo, to provide funding to the State Board of Higher Education to buy out the remainder of Shirvani's three-year contract.

The subcommittee's amendments also could affect Senate Bill 2200, legislation that would convert the state's higher education funding formula to a plan to pay campuses based on the number of completed credit hours rather than student enrollment. The amendments would instead call for a study of the plan.

North Dakota State University's Student Government leaders issued a statement Wednesday opposing the amendments, which they said could jeopardize the start of the Bison Sports Arena project and change the appropriation process for campus building projects, among other impacts.

"These changes would effectively stall the progress made over the past 18 months in developing an equitable higher education funding model for North Dakota," the statement said.

The bills, including the new amendments, now go to the full House Appropriations Committee.

If the House passes the bills with these amendments, a conference committee would have to hash out differences between the House and Senate versions before they would go to Dalrymple.