FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) -- Escalating health care costs, increased expenses for utilities and other higher education costs have prompted personnel cuts at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
Initial adjustments to operations were not sufficient to stay within the $36.8 million 2017-2018 fiscal year budget set by the seminary's trustees last spring, according to a Nov. 7 news release by Charles Patrick Jr., vice president for strategic initiatives and communications.
SWBTS President Paige Patterson said the adjustments were "personally excruciatingly painful and sad to me" in the seminary release following a Nov. 2 inquiry by the Southern Baptist TEXAN. With a cumulative increase of 42 percent over the past three years, health care now accounts for 10 percent of Southwestern's operating budget.
In serving 42 years as a president of Southern Baptist schools, Patterson said, "Not a day of it has been free from concerns about funding. The exorbitant cost of health care is the latest dilemma. Consequently, we have to tighten our belt."
After making "low-hanging fruit adjustments" that included reductions in dining services, copy center hours and the fleet of vehicles at the 200-acre campus, Patrick said the administration decided not to fill positions from natural attrition, including student employees who are graduating and staff and faculty set to retire.
In order to continue providing health care benefits to employees and their dependents, a third round of cuts involved laying off 30 fulltime staff "in selected areas where functions can be covered in other ways or by organizational change," Patrick said.
Noting that implementation of the Affordable Care Act prompted many institutions and companies to discontinue spousal and dependent coverage from employer health insurance plans, Patrick said Southwestern has made the decision to maintain those benefits because the seminary "places a high value on the family" as "a critical institution established by God."
The 865-member workforce at Southwestern includes 300 fulltime and 565 part-time employees. Classes taught by the four faculty members scheduled to retire will be covered by current professors.
Patrick indicated the seminary had fielded questions about "the perceived dichotomy of making budget adjustments that affect staff positions while concomitantly embarking on campus building projects" such as the recently opened Mathena Hall and renovations to Reynolds Auditorium and Barnard Hall.
Donor funds designated specifically for those projects cannot be used for operating the seminary, Patrick said. Furthermore, "all newly constructed buildings possess a maintenance and operating endowment to defray the impact on Southwestern's operating budget," he clarified.
Patterson expressed appreciation for the Cooperative Program, the Southern Baptist funding channel for state and worldwide missions and ministries which provides 22 percent of the operating budget to subsidize campus services and tuition expenses for students.
Regarding the personnel cuts, Patterson said he had no choice but "to maintain the financial integrity" of the seminary. "We are profoundly appreciative of the prayers of God's people," he added, seeking intercession for those affected by the staff reductions and additional donors to help with the operating budget.
"Many of our faithful ministry partners in South Texas are understandably recovering from Hurricane Harvey," Patrick said. He also encouraged supporters to "pray for and invite more students to Southwestern," noting that tuition revenue helps with the operating budget.
"The head count enrollment at Southwestern continues to be sustained, but students are taking fewer hours as they themselves make budget adjustments and work multiple jobs during these economic times of increased expenses," Patrick said.