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Staff cuts won't solve problem

“You can’t cut your way to prosperity.” That line has been repeated by economists and politicians; and yet, institutions panicking about deficits resort to cutting staff as the first response to bottom line problems.

The University of Wisconsin-Superior has spent the last several years digging itself into a fiscal hole. Chancellor Renee Wachter admits there have been years of poor decisions that led to the current problem. She cites years of unbudgeted expenses — repeated expenses — that, for some crazy reason, are a surprise every year.

The custodians and grounds people didn’t make the decision to ignore the repetition of expenses that never make it into the budget. Replacing the custodians and grounds people will not solve the problem of perennial unbudgeted expenses; it won’t even solve the problem of the budget deficit that seem to fluctuate between $2.5 million and $4.5 million. Laying off 28 people at the bottom end of the pay scale at any business only serves to make the lives of those living on the margins that much harder.

We keep knocking around a number when we talk about layoffs — 28 at UWS, 18,000 at Microsoft. Tallying a number rather than referring to people is easier for us. Using numbers in this impersonal way to explain a very personal situation — these are your neighbors, your relatives. It could be you.

I consider my situation, grateful that I haven’t received an at-risk letter, but I’m thinking it could happen. I could be replaced. I’m lining up the options I have if or when that letter comes to me. What do I have to give up? For many people already in that position, there isn’t much to give up because they never had much in the first place.

This is devastation for a core group of people at the university; it is a threat to the people around them, and it will have a ripple effect in their communities. But it probably won’t do much to improve the financial situation at UWS.

The next set of letters is waiting to be written.