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Staff To Choose Priorities For Funds

February 1, 1998

Judith Zwolak

Following recommendations from its Budget Review Committee and Faculty and Staff Benefits Committee, the University Senate has asked the Staff Advisory Council to poll staff members and choose whether funds set aside for staff this year should be used as a step toward equalizing faculty and staff retirement benefits or to raise the salaries for staff members who are below the minimum in their salary grades.

The $175,000 available would increase the university's contributions to staff retirement from 7 percent to 7.5 percent of gross annual income for all staff members in open units, says Yvette Jones, vice president for finance and operations. Faculty members currently receive an 8-percent contribution to their retirement plans from the university.

Tulane also matches faculty members' contributions beyond the 8-percent contribution to retirement funds up to 2 percent of their annual salaries. Staff members currently receive a 7-percent university contribution and do not have the matching option. Jones says that the university's closed units--the business school, law school and medical center--would be responsible for finding money for the retirement increase in their own budgets, which is beyond the $175,000 available.

Although the funds do not allow for complete equalization, the budget review committee sees the increase as only the first phase of a plan. "This money could be used as the first step toward increasing the university's staff retirement contributions to 8 percent," says Graeme Forbes, chair of the Budget Review Committee.

The other choice is to bring all university staff members earning below the minimum salary in grades 17/25 up to the lowest level of their grade. As part of a staff compensation plan initiated in 1993, the university set grade levels and corresponding salary ranges and planned to phase in salary increases for employees earning below the minimum compensation in their grade level, so called "green-circled" employees. So far, the plan has increased green-circled salaries in all grades up to 16.

Equalizing retirement benefits for faculty and staff has been a long-time concern of the Staff Advisory Council, says Maury Duplantis, chair of the council. The senate's benefits committee approved equalizing the retirement benefits in 1995, when council members on the committee first introduced the issue. Budget constraints during Tulane 2000, however, tabled the matter until funds were available.

When reintroduced in 1997, the issue went to the budget review committee, which recommended increasing the university contribution to staff retirement from 7 to 8 percent when "economically feasible." When the university's financial officers looked into the matter, they found $175,000 in the 1998/1999 fiscal year budget, enough for a .5-percent increase in university contributions for the open units, Jones says.

"That's how we came up with the dollar amount," she says. "Then the question was raised as to whether [retirement equalization] was the highest priority. Completing the funding for minimal salary levels within the compensation plan grade system has been on the agenda of the Budget Review Committee for some time."

Staff Advisory Council members started polling their constituents in late January and will reply to the Senate on Feb. 13, the day following their next meeting, Duplantis says. "This is a very important decision," he says. "Everyone is interested in the retirement issue and if it takes a couple of steps to equalize it, that's OK. Perhaps in a couple of years, we will be completely equalized and have the matching option."

Duplantis also says that the Budget Review Committee has allowed staff to propose other uses for the money. "We might want to use it for more staff training to help us become better at our jobs," he says. "Or we may want the money to subsidize daycare expenses or health insurance premiums." Duplantis encourages all staff members to contact their council representatives with their ideas.

Staffers without representation or who aren't sure who represents them can contact Duplantis through e-mail at maury@tpc.tulane.edu.

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