California University of Pennsylvania faculty to get free parking

University must reimburse parking fees back to 2010

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California University of Pennsylvania, which has wrestled of late with budgetary woes, has a new financial challenge: reimbursing faculty for parking fees dating to 2010 that the courts say were improperly levied.

Pennsylvania's Supreme Court has decided not to review a Commonwealth Court decision from last year that effectively ordered Cal U to return those fees with interest and revert to a free system of parking for professors and coaches.

Cal U had counted on those fees to help pay debt service on some $20 million in campus parking improvements, including a new five-story garage that fits 661 vehicles.

But the union representing those employees argued successfully before the court and earlier before the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board that Cal U's actions that included imposing the fees mid-contract without adequate bargaining amounted to unfair labor practice.

Christine Kindl, a spokeswoman for Cal U, said loss of the parking income "will make it challenging" for the school to make those debt service payments.

She said the money will come from Cal U's auxiliary reserves rather than its education and general budget, though Cal U as of Friday could not say definitively how much money it now owes members of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties -- APSCUF.

"University administrators will be meeting with the president of the faculty union next week to discuss the payback procedures and accommodations that will be made to provide free parking access for APSCUF members," Ms. Kindl said. "Final figures for the amount of the payback aren't available yet, but the university will be reimbursing faculty and coaches the amount they paid for parking (plus 6 percent interest) since the implementation of our paid parking system in 2010."

Robert Thorn, Cal U vice president for administration and finance, could not be reached for comment Friday. Nor could the State System of Higher Education, whose lawyers represented the university.

The August 2012 Commonwealth Court decision said Cal U's 400 faculty, 40 coaches and other employees as well as students once parked for free, but the campus has converted to a paid system. In August 2010, the school began charging faculty and coaches to park even though the faculty union and the administration had not reached agreement.

Michael Slavin, president of APSCUF's Cal U chapter, said Friday that some other campus unions have "me-too" clauses that could entitle their members to parking fee reimbursements. He said the Supreme Court's decision this month not to review the case, like the earlier decisions, vindicates the union's position.

"Unfortunately, it will impact the finances of an already strapped university," he said. "I think it's absolutely a shame that we had to wait as long as we did to get this resolved."

Cal U, where enrollment was down last year by more than 9 percent, has worked to close a projected budget deficit that at one point last year reached $12 million.

Construction debt is one area of concern. Cal U's debt total of nearly $93 million as of last year represents an eightfold increase over 2002. It sparked concerns on campus that enhancements including a new convocation center and the parking improvements were too much for a university already facing severe state funding cuts and a weakened student recruiting market.

Debt payments on bonds used to build the $59 million center and $20 million in parking improvements as of last year cost CalU in excess of $4 million annually -- $2,502,351 for the center and $1,551,357 for a new garage, surface lots and related improvements.

Once $510,100 in costs to operate the parking facilities were factored in, expenses in 2011 outpaced income by $743,041, even after $1,318,416 in revenue was collected as CalU transitioned to a pay parking system.

education

Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1977 and on Twitter: @BschacknerPG.


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