PIERRE, S.D. — A task force primed to trim any fat from South Dakota's public universities' budgets is inching closer to concrete recommendations, ranging from consolidating West River nursing programs under one Rapid City roof and clumping all the campuses on the same food vendor's contract.
The Senate Bill 55 task force, comprising Board of Regents staff, legislators, and business leaders, met on Thursday, May 13, in Sioux Falls, S.D., for various subcommittee meetings, with a high-level summary provided at day's end.
While the group will meet one final time, before disbanding ahead of a November deadline for submitting recommendations to the governor and legislature, a clearer picture emerged as to what cost-cutting measures will be endorsed by the task force.
Earlier in the week, the regents gave initial approval to a plan to house the duel Rapid City-based nursing programs offered by South Dakota State University and the University of South Dakota under a single building operated by Black Hills State University-Rapid City campus.
On Thursday, task force members announced there will be a unified food service contract for the six public university campuses, instead of the three contracts currently held.
"We will be going forward with one system RFP (request-for-proposal) fairly soon," said Heather Forney, system vice president of finance and administration.
As in previous meetings, Forney touted Senate Bill 134 from the most recent legislative cycle that received both chambers' approval and Gov. Kristi Noem's signature that drops a higher-standard for green building codes from new campus construction.
Forney said universities noted that "a lot of money (was) being spent on our institutions for those kinds of services," and that an upcoming building project already saved "hundreds of thousands of dollars" as the project will pursue a lower-level certification under the LEED, energy efficient rating, rather than the silver standard previously required by law.
Another proposal receiving attention from the group would see an increase in shared services, ranging from knowledge centers to Title IX offices across the six-campus system, said Janice Minder, system vice president for academic policy and planning. Although she warned against too-drastic-of cuts.
"We might find that we're lean in some areas," Minder said.
After the meeting, Sen. Reynold Nesiba, a Sioux Falls Democrat, said Thursday's session found the group "really getting somewhere" after months of meetings. He expects more recommendations, ranging from "program productivity" to "stakeholder communication" and even a refining of mission statements across the six schools to be released this summer.
"When we think about the regental system, it's helpful to think that we have two research institutions, we have two regional universities, and we have two specialized universities," Nesiba said. "We're recommending that the Board think about how these six schools fit together as a system."
The task force stems from a law enacted in the 2020 legislative session directing a committee to find "efficiencies" in the state's higher education budget.
At a Tuesday meeting of the Board of Regents, Executive Director Brian Maher told those gathered that the final June meeting only concludes the "meeting of the task force," and not the work of SB 55.
"The real work will be embedded in a strategic plan that we have at the Board of Regents," said Maher, adding, "I think we'll be seeing (SB 55's impact) for years to come."