State university workers jump at retirement bonus

Twice as many cashed in on offer than was expected

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A retirement incentive program intended to lessen budget strain across Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities drew more takers than expected, a total of 257 employees from janitors to a university president who already made public his decision to retire.

Gary Dent, a State System of Higher Education vice chancellor, confirmed the total in an interview Friday. Officials said they expect the departures to produce annual savings of $4 million to $8 million by 2011-12, depending on how many positions are refilled with less senior and presumably lower paid employees.

The exodus comes as the 14 schools in the state system grapple with financial woes, including $40 million less in state subsidies than two years ago and the expected loss of millions of dollars more in federal stimulus aid beginning next year.

A number of campuses have begun, or are contemplating, job cuts. It is hoped the savings could soften some of the choices in the months ahead, officials said.

"It allows the universities to rethink their structures in terms of their staff," said Mr. Dent, vice chancellor for human resources and labor relations. "We'll be able to bring in the talent we need to serve our students going forward."

The takers included grounds-keepers, housing directors and financial staff, among others, officials said. Also included was former Clarion University President Joseph P. Grunenwald, who a year ago announced his decision to retire June 30 after more than three decades on campus, including seven years as president.

Those eligible for the program included union employees and nonunion managers at least 60 years old or with 35 years of service or more. The incentive payments ranged from roughly $10,000 to $30,000 depending on age and years of service, Mr. Dent said.

As officials prepared to announce the offer in March, the State System reported a total work force of 13,500, including those at California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock universities in Western Pennsylvania.

The union representing 6,000 faculty and coaches did not participate, and while Mr. Dent did not rule out the possibility that an offer could be made anew to that union, he said no such discussions had occurred.

Indiana, the largest of the 14 schools, reported 37 employees had retired by the Aug. 27 deadline, while Slippery Rock reported 32. State System officials did not have numbers for the other Western Pennsylvania campuses.

Officials expected that 30 percent of the 409 eligible employees would choose to leave, based on the experience of similar programs at other universities, Mr. Dent said. Instead, about 62 percent did so, taking with them payments that averaged $15,300, Mr. Dent said.


Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977.


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