In an effort to reduce expenses in what its executive director called a financially scary time, the San Diego Natural History Museum laid off eight people Wednesday. Their positions will be eliminated early next month.
Asked about morale at the Balboa Park museum, which has courted financial problems for some time, interim executive director Allan Shaw said, “I think it’s fair to say that, for those affected, it’s pretty terrible. And I’m not sure anyone feels terrific about it. But sometimes, you just have to make hard decisions.”
Shaw said that, after looking at weak revenue projections for the coming year, board members decided that eight more employees had to go, this on the heels of the elimination of four other positions eliminated in recent weeks. He noted that three of those had left “of their own accord,” and the fourth was terminated a month and a half ago.
“As we looked at our admissions and our annual giving, both were considerably off what we projected,” Shaw said, declining to release budgetary figures. “The economy is bad. . . . . And you have to be a rosy optimist to think it’s going to turn around.
“If we didn’t take these steps, our expenses would have been considerably more than our revenues by the end of the fiscal year. Even with these steps, it’s likely we’ll have a shortfall, but not of the magnitude we would have experienced had we done nothing.”
In a recent interview, Shaw said the museum’s annual budget is about $2 million, and last year’s deficit was slightly more than $100,000. That led to the firing of previous executive director Hal Mahan, whom Shaw succeeded in July on an interim basis.
At the time, Mahan, who had held the post for 2 1/2 years, was criticized by board members for “acting in a reckless and uninformed manner.” Mahan was, however, credited with spearheading a master plan for the 115-year-old museum and for bringing from the Smithsonian Institution last year’s acclaimed rain forest exhibit.
Shaw said Wednesday that the eight positions eliminated “went across the board--people on our scientific staff, people from our development and public relations staff and some from administration. So far, the terminations have not affected our educational or exhibition departments, which are among the most important.”
He said the museum is left with a full-time staff of 43 and a 20-member board.