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College staff earmarked for smaller raise than other state workers

Feb 6, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Gov. Matt Mead has recommended raises for all state employees in his biennial budget request this year, but he outlined a smaller increase for community college faculty and staff compared to other state workers.

In December, Mead proposed a 2.5 percent pay increase in both 2015 and 2016 for staff at the University of Wyoming and employees in the executive and judicial branch of state government. For community colleges, Mead recommended a 2 percent salary increase that would cover the entire biennium.

The Joint Appropriations Committee met in January month to prepare for the Wyoming Legislature's 2014 budget session, which starts next week.

The JAC co-chairman, Sate Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, said the committee decided to reduce the raises for UW and other state workers to 2 percent each year. But community colleges still are scheduled for a one-time, 2 percent salary increase.

The rationale for the discrepancy, Bebout said, is that community college employees have received pay raises over the past four or five years, while other state workers have not.

"State employees, as a whole, last received an increase in 2009," Mead wrote in his budget proposal.

Staff at Central Wyoming College took issue with Mead's salary suggestion. Connie Nyberg, president of CWC's professional staff association, said raises at the school have only possible because administrators are financially conservative.

"We've been proactive, good stewards of our funds," she told the CWC Board of Trustees in December. "We've managed our funds wisely and tried to give ... increases to employees each year to try to keep from losing ground with recruiting. (Now) that's being held against us in some sense."

In his budget proposal, Mead recognized that community colleges have used flexibility in their budgets to provided raises and defray employee contributions to health insurance or retirement.

"This flexibility has resulted in salary adjustments that are overall more frequent and greater than those available to UW and the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government," Mead wrote.

"This recommendation recognizes that community college employees have received raises and brings some parity between community college compensation and (other state) employees."

Competition

Jennifer Rey, CWC's executive director for human resources, explained the recent salary increases at the school. According to the state, CWC has seen a 9 percent base salary change over the past four or five years.

Rey said the number takes into account the average 2.5 percent "step" salary increases CWC funds each year.

"But it doesn't accurately reflect that we've had limited-to-no base salary across-the-board or market adjustments in that timeframe," Rey said. "The information is accurate but incomplete, or the perspective with which it's being presented (doesn't) reflect what our actions have been."

She said 'step' increases are designed to help employees maintain a standard salary schedule. The raises do not reflect market competitiveness, Rey added, and employees must meet certain criteria to be eligible for a 'step.'

"It's easy to look at it and assume our 2.5 percent step and maintaining the salary model is giving a raise -- that's the surface perspective," Rey said. "But the only reason that's transpired is because of mechanisms we use in our budget process to make that happen."R32;Administrators in the past have made cuts to operating expenses and prioritized efficiency in order to make the step increases possible. Rey said the college needs to continue funding raises in order to stay competitive in employee recruitment and retention.

Unfair comparison

CWC president Jo Anne McFarland said the governor also failed to take into account additional benefits that UW and other state employees have received over the past several years. For example, she said state workers have gotten one or two 4 percent, across-the-board, external cost adjustments that aren't considered along with salary.

"We don't have those," she said. R32;Merit pay also has been given to state employees who have completed satisfactory evaluations, McFarland continued. She concluded that Mead's salary request was based on analysis that overlooked several adjustments in the state's own salary history.

"It doesn't fairly take into account a good comparison," she said.

In individual meetings, McFarland said, some legislators have expressed interest in funding a statewide salary market study for Wyoming's community colleges. Rey said it would have been nice to have the information sooner.

"That's the trouble with this particular legislative session," she said of the Legislature's upcoming budget session that begins Feb. 10. "You can't advocate without good information."

McFarland and Ron Granger, CWC's vice president for administrative services, visited with the JAC this month about topics including salary adjustments for state employees.

Afterward, Bebout said it seems community colleges historically have been "left out in the cold" when it comes to compensation.

"University people get paid very well, and colleges don't," he said. "They've been left behind for a number of years."

He said the arguments from CWC helped convince lawmakers to replace the $9 million that had been removed from the community college enrollment growth funding model for the coming biennium.

Mead's budget proposal originally recommended $49.97 million for compensation increases, with $23.1 million for judicial and executive branch pay increases of 2.5 percent during each year of the biennium.

The increase at UW would have cost $13.23 million from the state's general fund, plus $1.77 million over the biennium for one-time merit pay. The 2 percent increase for community colleges is budgeted to cost $3.65 million.