PHARR, RGV – UT-Rio Grande Valley has seen its funding for “special items” drastically cut in the new state budget.

Among the items affected are the McAllen Teaching Site and the Starr County Upper Level Center in Rio Grande City.

Texas A&M University has not been impacted as greatly, an official said.

“We had about $26 million in special items that had been put into the budget over time. A significant part of that was not funded. In some cases, more than half of the funding for special items went away,” said UTRGV President Guy Bailey.

“For example, the Rio Grande City Teaching Center, the McAllen Teaching Site, they were just decimated when we lost funding for the special items. We have any number of other special items that were cut.”

As the name implies, “special items” are non-formula funded items in the state budget. Often times, legislators will add funding as a special item to get a program or project off the ground. Over the years, such items have stayed in the budget. This year, there was a determined push in the Texas Senate to remove “special items,” from the budget. This did not happen but funding was slashed.

“We may be able to handle some of the special items with private money. We have a Diabetes Registry. We are looking for other ways to fund that. But, in some cases we will just have to cut the programs themselves,” Bailey told the Rio Grande Guardian.

Asked if UTRGV relies more heavily on special item funding, Bailey said: “We have one of the largest dollar amounts for special items in the State of Texas so when special items were cut, we were hurt more than other universities. We will have to look at those special items carefully. Many of them we cannot absorb in our general academic budget. So, most of the cuts in the institution will come in the special items category.”

Bailey said in some cases, UTRGV will not be able to find the funds to absorb some of the cuts.

“The Legislature decided things us. If they removed half the funding for a special item, we cannot afford to fund that with something else,” he said.

Asked about the McAllen and Rio Grande City facilities, Bailey said: “They will be significantly cut. They are in jeopardy, sure. There is not a way we can sustain it. There is no other revenue to sustain it.”

UTRGV Vice President Veronica Gonzales said the Legislature has agreed to set up a working group to look at “special items” in the state budget. She said the group will start its deliberations in September. Gonzales said it is possible that “special items” could be reduced further or eliminated altogether by a future Legislature.

President Bailey said the Valley legislative delegation was not to blame for the cuts in funding.

“The legislative delegation from the Rio Grande Valley was very supportive. We want to thank them because even though this was a tough session, they were stalwarts, they worked very hard for us. Senator Hinojosa, Senator Lucio, all the Reps. They were behind us all the way,” Bailey said.

Bailey made his comments in an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian at Pharr City Hall. Bailey was there to receive a check for $500,000 from the City of Pharr to help fund UTRGV School of Medicine.

Texas A&M University

Chad E. Wootton, associate vice president for external affairs, at Texas A&M University, said his university has not been impacted as much as some others by the cuts to “special items.”

Wootton said: “For Texas A&M, we have less of a dependence on special items, because, over time, we have tried to move as many of those as we could into more fomulaic funding, based on student enrollment or degree completion or research that is produced by our faculty. So, our impacts are not as dramatic. We do have some impacts to some of the special items that support our health science center, including the McColl Road site where we have public health, nursing, and some of our community health outreach programming. We will have to wait and see what the ultimate result of that is. The state Legislature does not prohibit us from working internally to shift and reallocate. So, we will be doing some of that.”

Editor’s Note: The McAllen Teaching Site is used by UTRGV Continuing Education. Rio Grande Guardian publisher Mark Hanna had a Facebook livestream conversation with UTRGV Continuing Education Director Jayshree Bhat this week. Here is the link:

LIVE: Join us for a conversation with UTRGV Continuing Education Director Jayshree Bhat about the college's education initiatives and its outreach to the community.

Posted by Rio Grande Guardian on Tuesday, June 13, 2017