Board of Trustees Discuss Economy and Possible Budget Cuts at Extra Meeting

As Phillips Academy’s endowment and budget have responded to the ups and downs of market volatility, so have the Board of Trustees. On March 16, the Board of Trustees held an extra meeting, outside of their three annual meetings, to discuss a 7.5 percent budget cut in response to the current economic recession. Nancy Jeton, Special Assistant to the Head of School, said that the purpose of this extra meeting was to discuss “the realities of the economy and the effect that it has had on the endowment, and therefore the Academy’s spending power.” The Board of Trustees plans to implement the 7.5 percent cut over the next two years by reducing the budget first at the meeting this May, and then again during next year’s January and May meetings. Jeton said that the Trustees will not make a final budget cut decision until they reconvene for their annual spring meeting so that they can assess the school’s fiscal situation in the interim. “To some extent we want to see what happens with the economy. Is it going to get worse? Is it going to get better? Is it really a 7.5 percent cut we have to think about?” said Jeton. The endowment has fueled 42 percent of Andover’s budget in recent years. In the roughly 85 million dollar budget, the Trustees have already discussed cutting the faculty and staff compensation pool, as well as the budget for goods and services, which include food and construction supplies. The school is reducing the amount it spends on office supplies and legal and consulting services as well, said Jeton. The school has already made a two-percent budget cut in these services for this fiscal year, and will ask for an additional five-percent reduction. Previous budget cuts have also affected the campus this year. “In the fall, we immediately knew that we had to make some cuts, so we’re temporarily reducing the amount of money that we spent on maintenance and renewal,” said Jeton. Anticipated budget cuts made the Board of Trustees push back scheduled dorm renovations for this summer. “We have a program where we renew dorms, like how Johnson Hall was done two summers ago, and this coming summer there would have been another big dorm renewal project. We’re not going to do that. That’s a one million dollar budget item,” Jeton said. But Jeton said that the renovations will be delayed for a few years and not canceled entirely. The Board of Trustees does not want to make any cuts that will detract from the school. “[The Trustees] really want to know what’s important: what makes the Phillips Academy unique and excellent, and that’s the top of the pyramid of their decision making. They don’t want to make any cuts that would negatively impact the experience,” said Jeton. Jeton said that before the Board of Trustees could decide on what to change about the budget, they had to reassess the mission of the school. “[The Board of Trustees] wanted to reexamine if the goals [of the school’s mission] are still applicable given the financial situation,” said Jeton. She continued, “They then discussed and agreed upon a new set of goals to guide the process of thinking about reexamining how the Academy does its [financial] business.” The Board of Trustees does not plan on cutting budget money for Andover’s need-blind admission policy. “[The Board is] very committed to [need-blind]. They restated a commitment to that. They talked about it, they think that’s a big piece of the mission of the Academy and they’re convinced that they want to sustain it,” said Jeton. The Board of Trustees also wants to investigate how the school can be restructured to be more financially efficient. At the meeting, the Trustees raised questions of efficiency with Commons, the Office of Physical Plant, staff and faculty. They discussed whether the school would operate more efficiently with fewer people or fewer work hours. But Jeton said that the school does not want to repeat the mistake of making short-term budget cuts that will hurt PA in the long run. “That happened on this campus before when, like many schools, people in certain decades did not spend enough keeping up maintenance on buildings,” said Jeton. “But then in the end, when things fall apart, it costs you more money.” At their winter meeting last term, the Board of Trustees decided that reassessing spending habits was an important enough reason to meet off-schedule. “This board doesn’t often go into retreat, but when they find a topic they need to spend more time on, they will,” said Jeton. “We’re really lucky to have a small, very engaged Board of Trustees. There were only three Trustees [out of 21] absent from this retreat, which I think was extraordinary on such short notice. They’re very dedicated to the school,” she continued.