The salary pool approved by the Board of Regents at its April 27 meeting continues to be a point of concern for members of the University of Colorado Staff Council because the pool does not apply to classified staff members.
The 3 percent pool is meant to enable merit pay increases to faculty and exempt staff. At the board meeting, Regent Monisha Merchant proposed an amendment stating that campuses should explore opportunities for rewarding classified staff; it failed 5-4.
Compensation for classified staff is set by state rules. Kelly Fox, vice president and chief financial officer, said the university is pursuing other potential ways of rewarding classified staff compensation.
"We are definitely exploring what options are available and that would include looking at some type of incentive pool for classified. ... It probably would not be something across the board, but .... would have a merit-based component," Fox said. She said in the upcoming weeks she will talk with President Bruce Benson and the regents about options.
In the meantime, Krug said she has suggested that a working group that includes staff members be formed to make sure the processes involved with distributing the salary pool funds are equitable and reasonable. She also expressed appreciation for support from some of the regents.
"We need to make it a point to let Regent Merchant and Regent (Joe) Neguse know how much we appreciate the actions they tried to take on our behalf," said Lori Krug, co-chair of the staff council during its May 5 meeting at the Anschutz Medical Campus. "It was Regent Merchant who felt strongly about classified staff so she proposed the amendments to add the language (concerning) classified staff into the resolution for the compensation pool. Regent Neguse seconded that and they ... tried to persuade the others to come along. They really feel strongly that something needs to be done for staff."
Krug said part of the concern is that as salaries remain stagnant, costs are rising, and that could create issues for the university as staff leaves to seek higher salaries in the private sector.
"That will lead to bigger costs for the university to replace them and train them and get them up to speed," Krug said. "It also will lead to a bigger gap in the services we can provide."
She said she remains confident that administrators understand the university cannot function without the staff "as the third leg of the stool," and will attempt to "make something happen" regarding pay for classified staff.
Neguse, who was a special guest at the Staff Council meeting, said the staff deserves a lot of credit for taking on more duties without increased pay.
"We've been asking you to do more and more with less. I know what that means and it's not something that I take lightly," he said. "Although we are a large employer ... we ultimately are a family, the University of Colorado family."
He acknowledged that many people have built their careers at CU or have turned down higher-paying jobs because "they care about our mission and our values."
But, he said, the university and the state still are in a "crisis mode. We are doing everything we can ... to preserve CU's ability to move forward in spite of some of the severe and draconian (state) budget cuts that have happened in the past couple of years." He said he believes the state eventually will step up to the plate and citizens will decide that investing in higher education is worth the cost.
The regents approved a 9 percent increase in tuition, and part of that money, contingent on meeting enrollment goals, will be used for a salary pool. Neguse voted against the tuition increase because he said yearly increases in the cost of tuition are not a long-term solution to budget problems.
"We want to keep education affordable and accessible (and ensure that) we give faculty and staff the resources needed to do their jobs. ... I didn't believe the proposal before us is the way to do that," he said.
Neguse and the other regents, with the exception of James Geddes, voted for the salary pool.
"I would have liked to see the classified amendment pass," Neguse said, because classified staff members have taken a hit, especially with the increased PERA (Public Employees' Retirement Association) contributions they are required to make because of state budget cuts. This fiscal year, PERA members paid 2.5 percent of the university's portion of the retirement contribution; a bill that would extend the contribution for another year is pending in the Legislature and is expected to be passed before today's close of the session.
In other matters of interest, E. Jill Pollock, senior assistant vice president and chief human resources officer, updated council members on numerous issues:
Tuition benefit changes still are under consideration, but will likely be modest until the economy improves, Pollock said. The dependent benefit will likely be instituted at or near the present allotment of nine credit hours and registration would still be on a space-available basis. She said she is working with Information Technology to streamline the current administrative process to allow employees to register online.
Pollock also said she has suggested the "test of work-relatedness" and supervisor approval be eliminated. She anticipates any changes will not go into effect until next spring or summer.
Pollock said health plan rates have increased by 5.7 percent, with employees paying most of the additional costs. In normal years, the university – as a state employer – would have picked up 3.5 percent of the cost, but because of the state budget crisis, the state set employer contributions for the increased costs at less than 1 percent.
The good news, said Pollock, is that the university's self-funded plan rate increase is lower than the national, region and higher education average cost increase.
In the upcoming year, the national health reform act requires free, age- and gender-based preventive medical services. Examples of 100 percent coverage offered by all plans include vision tests for children and osteoporosis screening.
The UA NET plan, offered through the School of Medicine and University Hospital and its affiliates, will be expanded to Colorado Springs in partnership with a physician group at Colorado Springs Memorial Hospital.
The Higher Ed Institution Efficiency Bill (HB11-1301) follows last year's flexibility legislation. One provision of the bill clarifies the definition of professional positions that can be exempted from classified status. "It clarifies that positions that do not receive state general funds may be exempted from the state classified system," Pollock said.
Dan Montez, director of the Office of Policy and Efficiency, updated members on the next rollout of policy changes scheduled for July 1. The policy changes under review include two rescissions, 11 revisions, and one – concerning the Open Records Act – addition. As of April, Montez said, the number of Administrative Policy Statements has been reduced by more than half to 94 from 210, with the number of pages trimmed to 283 from 650.
The office's updated website – www.cu.edu/policies – has a variety of new features, including templates for those who must draft policies, a consolidated form for questions and suggestions, and better search and function tools.
Montez also said the university's cost savings incentive program, which rewards employees for adopted cost-cutting suggestions, has received four applications. Suggestions must meet a variety of criteria; of the four received, however, three did not meet the basic criteria while the fourth was denied because it was not a true cost-saving measure.
The Higher Education Efficiency Legislation includes an exemption that would allow the university to offer its own incentive program rather than follow state rules. Montez says the university program would use less stringent criteria to access cost-cutting ideas and place more emphasis on recognition.
Staff Council leadership
Staff Council members also offered nominations for officer positions for the upcoming year. Those nominated and their potential positions are: Carla Johnson, chair; Teena Shepperson-Turner, vice-chair; Tina Collins, treasurer; and Dana Drummond, secretary. Before the nominations, council members voted to appoint Johnson to council for the remainder of the fiscal year, a necessary step before she can be considered for the position of chair. All officers serving for the 2011-2012 fiscal year must be sitting members of the current council. Other nominations will be accepted through Friday, May 13; voting will be conducted June 9.
The council also made changes to bylaws language concerning membership. Current language used is incorrect, Krug said. The approved language reads: Time required by classified staff representatives for regular and special meetings during normal working hours may be construed as regular work hours. Previous language had stated: "Time taken ... may be construed as administrative leave."