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PSU braces for budget cuts, layoffs amid deficit

Plus, the Pennsylvania House's latest vacancy.

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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
Thursday, March 16, 2023
Budget crunch, resignation date, ruling response, hawk talk, AI algorithm, viral video, she's *not* running, and when a lifetime membership isn't.

Layoff plans are in the works at Penn State, Pennsylvania's largest public university, amid a budget deficit and what the school's new president calls a "vulnerable" financial situation, Spotlight PA reports. 

President Neeli Bendapudi said budget cuts to some units will be steeper than expected, and department heads are eyeing layoffs in response. 

According to internal communications obtained by Spotlight PA, department heads were asked to submit the number of employees they plan to layoff by the end of June. The university has declined to provide an approximate timeline for when employees will know if their job is being cut.

Read the full report: Penn State president says cuts will be deeper than anticipated as leaders finalize layoff plans.

THE CONTEXT: The administration under President Bendapudi is attempting to balance its budget by 2025 after the system operated last fiscal year with a general funds budget deficit of more than $125 million. She said that while the university is "not in a financial crisis," it is "in a vulnerable state."

Since the deficit revelations last summer, Penn State adopted a "strategic hiring freeze" and a new budget model for the coming fiscal year.

Bendapudi told the university community in September that she had not anticipated the financial challenges. University trustees, who have approved Penn State's budget for years, also said they were caught off guard.

The trustees approved the current $149 million deficit with "the expectation that we would present budgets with smaller deficits for fiscal years 2024 and 2025 in July 2023," Bendapudi wrote in a memo. The university says the budget process for the 2024 and 2025 fiscal years is ongoing.

Read more: Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi's high-wire act.


"Apparently, they learned this: Next time, try to ban the books in secret so you don't get caught."

—Central York School District resident Mike Mountz on the district's quiet removal of a novel following the reversal of its contested book ban
Support Spotlight PA's independent, nonpartisan journalism and for a limited time, your gift will be DOUBLED.
If we raise $25,000 by March 25, every single gift in support of Spotlight PA will be DOUBLED by the Benter Foundation in Pittsburgh. Help Spotlight PA continue its vital accountability and investigative reporting by making a tax-deductible gift and securing your dollar-for-dollar match now.

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VITAL DATA: Join us for Sunshine Week TODAY from 6-7 p.m. on Zoom for a free panel on health care reporting in Pennsylvania, how we fight for open records, and your rights under the Right-to-Know Law. Register here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org

UNEQUAL ELECTIONS: Join us and a panel of election experts on Thursday, March 30 from 6-7 p.m. on Zoom for a free discussion on unequal voting policies in the state, how they impact voters, and possible solutions. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org

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Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.EFFECTIVE DATE: State Rep. Mike Zabel's resignation in the face of sexual harassment allegations takes effect at 9 a.m. today. The special election to fill the Democrat's Delaware County seat is expected to coincide with the May 16 primary, as will a special election to fill a reliably Republican seat in the lower chamber. Barring any unforeseen openings, Democrats still hold a one-seat majority.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.NO APPEAL: Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro says GOP lawmakers have indicated they won't appeal February's landmark court ruling that labeled Pennsylvania's school funding system unconstitutional and ordered it fixed, The Inquirer (paywall) reports. That means it will fall to the governor and divided legislature to find a solution, something Spotlight PA reported will be an enormous and expensive challenge.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.BUDGET BEEF: The ranking GOP member of the state House Appropriations Committee criticized Gov. Shapiro's $44 billion budget plan on Wednesday, saying it uses gimmicks to "mask the reality of a $2 billion deficit," per Capital-Star. The comments by state Rep. Seth Grove (R., York) come with months of budget hearings and negotiations between the legislature and executive branch looming. 

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.POWER TOOL: Officials took Lauren and Andrew Hackney's baby away while they sat in a Pittsburgh hospital willing the malnourished child to eat. Now, federal investigators are probing the Allegheny County algorithm that led their daughter into foster care and whether it discriminates against parents, like them, with disabilities or another protected status. The tool was also enlisted in Northampton County.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.CRISIS HOTLINE: A staffer with the office of U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio (D., Pa.) called an EPA hotline set up in the wake of last month's toxic train crash near the Pennsylvania-Ohio border because they were being stonewalled by Pennsylvania Department of Environment Protection officials. Grid reports the DEP eventually got in touch, but the derailment hotline revealed confusion and unheeded early warnings.

VIRAL VIDEO: Mercyhurst University in Erie has responded after one of its hockey players was seen on video pushing someone's unoccupied wheelchair down a flight of stairs at a local bar. The player, Carson Briere, son of Flyers interim GM Daniel Briere, says he's "deeply sorry."

NOT RUNNING: One day after leaving the door open for another U.S. Senate run in 2024, MAGA favorite Kathy Barnette tells Politico she's ruled it out. Instead, Barnette says she's leading a grassroots organizing effort on behalf of Vivek Ramaswamy's longshot Republican presidential bid.

POWER PLAY: Allegheny County treasurer and leading county executive candidate John Weinstein lent his name and support to a judicial candidate who went on to hire two people with ties to him, PublicSource and WESA report. Weinstein dismisses any claims of impropriety.

WIND CITY: State Rep. Bob Merski (D., Erie) wants wind turbines on Lake Erie in Pennsylvania with a pilot project to build several about 8 miles offshore from Cleveland now in the works. That project is not without its critics.

SHORT-LIVED: Otto's Pub and Brewery in State College will stop honoring its lifetime Pub Club membership, which offered discounts for a one-time $150 fee. The Centre Daily Times (paywall) says patrons are irate.

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag. Answers submitted by 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

Yesterday's answer: Luminescence

Congrats to our daily winners: Kevin M., Mark O., Craig W., Susan D., Kimberly D., Lisa H., Dianne K., Barbara F., Don H., Jon W., Tracy S., Kim C., Ada M., Jane R., Susan N.-Z., Stanley J., David W., Barbara Jean M., James B., Elaine C., Nancy S., Dennis M., Starr B., Bill S., Joel S., Fran B., Wendy A., Maureen G., William Z., Ted W., and Amy Z.
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