Proposed UH-Hilo cuts called ‘devastating’

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald UH-Hilo assistant softball coach Aisha Sueda hits a ball to Vevesi Liilii as Skylar Thomas looks on during a practice in February.

While proposed budget cuts throughout the University of Hawaii system, recently recommended by the state Senate, would largely reduce unfilled positions at UH-Hilo if approved, a proposal to trim $300,000 from the school’s athletics budget would devastate the program, university officials say.

UH administrators said the proposed systemwide cuts would total $30 million over two years and permanently trim 121 faculty positions that have already been filled at the flagship UH-Manoa campus, as well as another 100 vacant positions throughout the 10-campus system, the Associated Press reported.

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The Senate proposal calls for the reduction of 49.5 permanent positions from UH-Hilo.

“Our positions are vacant spots, so there’s no real immediate impact, because we wouldn’t be dealing with filled positions,” said Kalei Rapoza, interim vice chancellor for administrative affairs at UH-Hilo.

While looking at vacant positions “makes it a little more palatable,” any campus hates to lose “position counts,” even if they’re currently not filled, he said, because they are needed for the university to continue its growth.

A proposed $300,000 cut to the university’s athletics funding, however, is a “big hit to the athletics department because of the high travel costs that we have for athletic events,” Rapoza said, “Almost all of our away games are far away, so travel is a big expense for us.”

A few years ago, the Legislature had appropriated $300,000 to assist the university with its intercollegiate athletic travel, but the funds were not recurring, he said.

This year, the university has to “fight to get them in (the budget) as recurring expenses,” Rapoza said.

“Ideally, we want (the funds) to be recurring, because the travel is always going to be there.”

If the Senate proposal does go through, UH-Hilo Director of Athletics Patrick Guillen said the $300,000 loss would be “devastating for our program because we rely on that for our travel,” as well as other supplemental needs.

“We have unique costs here in Hawaii that schools on the mainland don’t have,” he said, adding that travel costs can be four or five times more expensive here.

“$300,000 is very, very significant to us.”

According to Guillen, there are 200 student athletes, and the athletic department spends close to $1 million on its travel budget.

Losing the $300,000 in funding would impact the way university athletes travel — and their health and safety, he said.

For instance, Guillen said the cutback could mean teams likely would have to take smaller rosters of students to the mainland when they travel, which would mean players wouldn’t get the needed amount of rest during games.

Health and safety of students in general should come first, he said.

According to staff in the office of state Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, who chairs the Senate’s Higher Education committee, the senator is currently working with UH administrators to “restore a number of positions” and to make sure each position is accounted for.

This is a proposal and not the final version, the staff member said.

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The House bill that concerns the budget went to conference committee for further discussion between both chambers of the Legislature on Wednesday. The committee is set to reconvene today.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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