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Budget woes spur retirements

May 5, 2011

The 28 UW-River Falls faculty and staff that have or will retire at the end of the academic year is the largest number of retirements at UWRF in the past four years.  In 2010 there were 15 retirements, 20 in 2009 and 9 in 2008.

The faculty and staff were honored April 26 at the retirement and years of service banquet.

Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Brad Caskey said he predicts that for the next two or three years there will be high numbers of retirements because of the large number of faculty and staff that are at or near the age of retirement.

Three years ago, Director of Human Resources Donna Robole conducted a study that looked into the ages of all faculty and staff and found that more than 25 percent were at least 60 years old.  The study was initiated to plan how the administration was going to deal with succession.

Besides the large percentage of aging faculty and staff, Caskey attributes the increase in retirements to the budget crisis in the state of Wisconsin.

On top of faculty and staff having to pay more into their pensions and health insurance each month, some fear that they may lose some of their sick leave hours that have accumulated over the years, Caskey said.

Employees who have worked for at least 15 years of continuous state service earn sick leave credits through the Supplemental Health Insurance Conversion Credit (SHICC) program.  The accumulated sick leave is multiplied by the employee’s highest basic pay rate and converted to credits that help pay for health insurance during retirement.

Most of the staff and faculty who retire still have a couple of years before Medicare kicks in so the credits help bridge that gap, said Robole.

SHICC is not protected by state statute and can be negated with only a 24-hour notice, Caskey said. If that occurred, human resources would notify all faculty and staff on campus immediately, he said.

The Department of Administration has stated that the public will be given ample notice of any changes so they can do what they need to do to prepare.

Despite this assurance, faculty and staff are still nervous about losing the SHICC portion of their retirement package.

“It’s a crap shoot right now,” Caskey said. “People know they will be guaranteed their benefits if they retire now but if they stay, they don’t know what could happen. Therefore, some are pushed to retire sooner than they would like to.”

Although the retirements are spread throughout campus, there is a high concentration of retirements within Facilities Management and the English Department.

Besides the planned retirements of English professors Jim Mulvey and Ronald Neuhaus, there have been three other retirements within the department.

English Department Chair, Laura Zlogar said she and a few others within the department are also considering retirement.

“The big issue is the uncertainty about what the Governor and the Legislature is going to do with people’s retirement benefits, she said. “For someone like me, it’s the difference between five and a half years covering insurance premiums versus 11 years. That’s an awful lot of money in retirement benefits.”

According to the Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds, which processes retirements for state and local government employees, the number of requests for retirement estimates between January and April has increased 108 percent over the same period in 2010.  The number of retirement applications received increased 93.8 percent over the same period in 2010.

In the midst of the proposed $2.8 million reduction in state funding to UWRF and the increase in retirements, Caskey said he wants to ensure that students are held harmless.  Zlogar said she is unsure that students will be able to remain unscathed.

“The financial and political repercussions are going to be felt by students in a very real way” she said. “Students are feeling the impact because there are fewer courses they can take, some of their classes are being canceled and it might take longer for students to graduate if they can’t get into some of those required courses.”

An English 200 class, which already had students enrolled in, was canceled due to the faculty retirements, said Zlogar.

Some of the positions within CAS may be left vacant and others will be replaced by temporarily employment,” Caskey said.

After all the departments are evaluated and assessed, there will be a better idea about how many of the tenure-track positions will be filled.

Even though Zlogar said she thinks the remaining faculty members within her department will be strained and students may feel some of the affects of the retirements and budget situation, she doesn’t want students to think their education will be severely compromised.

“I don’t want students to get the impression that the wheels are falling off the cart, but maybe we have some flat tires,” she said.