Task force evaluates alternative budgeting methods

Few on campus are fully aware of the university’s budgeting process, but Youngstown State University officials are working to make it more inclusive.

Neal McNally, YSU budget director, is leading a task force that is charged with eliminating the current budget model, evaluating alternatives and implementing the best choice.

While the name “task force” suggests an elite group of highly specialized individuals, it’s actually composed of nearly one dozen campus officials from various areas.

The fiscal health area of the university’s strategic plan, otherwise known as YSU 2020, calls for “a transparent and responsive budget system.”

“There is a sense that decision-making surrounding the current budget process is less than transparent, and the task force is working to address this,” McNally said.

The university operates on an incremental model, with college and department budgets calculated based on the prior year’s allocations.

Paul Kobulnicky, executive assistant to Gene Grilli, vice president for finance and adminstration, said the task force is evaluating eight models.

Kobulnicky declined to comment on his or the task force’s initial perceptions of models.

“I think it’s important to let the task force do its work before commenting on an implementation timeline or on the specifics of any given budget model,” McNally said.

One possible alternative is the responsibility center management model, which other universities have employed over recent years.

It’s a decentralized approach, with revenues for colleges being disbursed based on revenues from tuition, fees and other charges.

Kent State University employed the RCM model in 2009.

Yi Liu, a budget analyst at KSU, said she thinks it’s a better model than the incremental budgeting approach, adding that it fosters a strong spirit of competition on campus.

“It’s a benefit to the university. It’s not like they fight and say, ‘I get more; you get less,’” Liu said.

College deans are given greater authority in budgeting decisions, according to KSU’s RCM operating manual.

“By allowing [colleges] to control the revenues they generate, decision-makers are better able to understand both the academic and financial impacts of their decisions,” the manual reads.

Ron Cole, director of university communications, reported in a YSUpdate that the group is also evaluating a “performance-based budgeting” approach, with incentives tied to colleges meeting campuswide goals.

Kobulnicky said meetings are held periodically, coming together when issues need addressed. The task force is projected to update the board of trustees on its progress during the finance and facilities committee meeting on June 5.