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Museum of Science trims 10% of its 400 staffers

Reorganization, budget woes cited

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Geoff Edgers
Globe Staff / June 11, 2008

With attendance down and a budget deficit looming, the Museum of Science yesterday laid off 10 percent of its 400-person staff. The cuts were across the board, ranging from $175,000-a-year vice presidents to lower-paid exhibit designers.

Museum president Ioannis Miaoulis said the layoffs were budget-driven only in part. At a Nov. 28 trustee meeting, the board was told that the museum was facing a potential $3 million deficit. Miaoulis said that he expects the museum to break even this year, thanks to transfers from reserve funds and jobs left unfilled. The cuts will not have any impact on the current fiscal year, which runs through this month.

Miaoulis said he waited six months to make the cuts because the Boston museum had not determined how it should be reorganized.

"Regardless of the budget, we would have made cuts," he said. "Entering a recession made us look more in depth and make deeper cuts. But that was not the main driver of the organization. It was strategic."

Since taking over in 2003, Miaoulis has overseen tremendous growth, scoring grants that allowed him to increase the museum's budget from roughly $25 million to $45 million and its staff size from under 300 to about 400.

He said that under the restructuring plan, several changes have been made. The museum will create an education division made up of programs, exhibits, and curriculum. Marketing, communications, and advocacy will become the external affairs department.

The information technology department has been eliminated, with ticketing and database functions transferring to the finance department, while Web design will become part of the education department.

Four vice presidents, making between $150,000 and $175,000, according to the most recent tax filings on record, were cut.

One has been offered another position, with reduced pay. David Rabkin, formerly vice president for innovation, strategic partnerships, and sustainability, said he will accept the offer.

"I'm going to stay because there's still important work to be done," said Rabkin, on staff since 2000. He said he does not yet know what his new position will be.

Richard M. Burnes Jr., chairman of the museum's board, estimated that 10 of the 40 positions could be restored over time. The museum needs to be more flexible, he said, to develop innovative exhibits and educational programs. With fewer full-time staffers, the museum will be able to hire more people for specific projects.

"Technology changes," he said. "And in a science museum it's really important to keep current. If we don't do a good job in the area of science education, the United States is going to be working for the Chinese and Indians in 50 years."

Miaoulis said the attendance woes are not surprising. In 2006, the museum drew 1.9 million people, aided by the blockbuster exhibit "Gunther von Hagens' Body Worlds 2: The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies." In 2007, that figure fell to 1.5 million, he said.

In addition, a renovation of the museum's Omni Theater kept it closed for three months.

Miaoulis disclosed the layoffs yesterday morning. Everybody involved received a severance package, he said. At 2:30, remaining staffers gathered in the theater.

"I first told them how I felt because it's not easy letting colleagues and friends go, and then I outlined what is the competitive environment and how it has changed," Miaoulis said.

"I told them how we needed to transform the museum so we can maintain its position as one of the best museums internationally."

Geoff Edgers can be reached at gedgers@globe.com

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