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Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 17, 2018

ISU thaws pay freeze, despite budget cuts

‘Pay increases are critically important’
By Vanessa Miller, The Gazette | Jun 05, 2018
Photo by: Cliff Jette/The Gazette Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen speaks to The Gazette’s Editorial Board on May 7 in Cedar Rapids.

Iowa State University is thawing a pay freeze for staff enacted last summer, citing concerns about employee morale.

The lifting of the pay freeze comes despite declining state support in university funding.

All ISU employees “with satisfactory performance” will receive a raise of at least 1 percent in the 2019 budget year, beginning July 1. That’s according to new proposed salary guidelines for faculty, professional and scientific staff, contract workers and postdoctoral researchers.

Administrators could approve raises up to 10 percent “for extraordinary performance, retention and adjustments based on market rates or equity,” according to ISU communications. A senior vice president would need to approve any pay raise higher than that.

The new salary policy is the first under ISU President Wendy Wintersteen. She was hired in October to succeed Steven Leath, who left in May 2017 to lead Auburn University.

While serving as Interim ISU president last summer, Ben Allen announced midyear cuts and further reductions that ostensibly would prevent the institution from enacting mandatory pay raises.

Instead, with $970,000 available campuswide for pay increases, Allen said administrators would OK only targeted raises.

Since that freeze, lawmakers have pulled back another nearly $11 million in state support from ISU and the University of Iowa. That means legislative funding for the general education budgets of Iowa’s three public universities has fallen more than $40 million since the start of the 2017 budget year.

Lawmakers approved an $8.3 million increase for the upcoming budget year. That’s below the $12 million the universities requested. The state Board of Regents, in response, is scheduled this week to approve tuition increases affecting all students in the fall, and all three campuses have enacted cost-cutting measures — such as postponing maintenance projects.

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld recently imposed a moratorium on new construction and announced no pay raises on his campus until at least January. That gives the administration time to evaluate tuition revenue dependent on fall enrollment and assess legislative decisions following a December meeting of the Revenue Estimating Conference.

But Wintersteen told The Gazette last month her campus’ pay freeze is “really devastating for morale.” Last year, most faculty resignations at ISU were the most in a decade — 44. The previous year has seen 24 resignations.

In exit interviews, according to Board of Regent documents, 65 percent of departing employees said they were leaving for a better opportunity, and 44 percent said they would be earning “much higher” pay.

“I’m very worried about the situation,” Wintersteen said in May, noting that one of her top priorities has been “figuring out how to do a salary increase.”

ISU administrators said in a recent news release that new funding was allocated to cover the 1 percent pay increase for staff in academic administration and support, business services, facilities services, information technology, library services and student services.

“All other units will use their own resources to pay for raises,” according to the release. “All units must use reallocations to fund any increase beyond 1 percent.”

Across-the-board tuition increases in the fall are expected to generate $10 million in revenue. But unit heads must enter salary increases by Thursday, meaning the raises will incur some risk.

Employees with unsatisfactory performance records will go on an improvement plan, and those meeting requirements of the plan can earn a 1 percent raise in January.

“Merit pay increases are critically important to recognize our faculty and staff who work hard every day to provide an exceptional experience for our students and advance excellence in our academic, research and extension programs,” Wintersteen said in a statement. “Competitive salaries will continue to be a high priority as we compete nationally to retain and recruit the best faculty and staff.”

ISU workers covered under a local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union and a two-year collective bargaining agreement will receive a 1 percent pay raise July 1. But regents this week will consider a recommendation to give merit workers no additional performance step increases in the 2019 budget year.

“Changes to a state collective bargaining law made in 2017 allow the board to determine whether to provide step increases, which previously were given to all merit employees with satisfactory performance on the anniversary of their start date,” according to Iowa State, which recommended “no step increases, to ensure all employee groups received a similar base raise.”

 

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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