ECC planning for senior management raises and a structural realignment

The Board of Trustees of Erie Community College, at their meeting on Monday, November 21, will vote on a resolution that provides a schedule of salary increases for the School’s senior staff, which is known as the Senior Executive Staff, or SES. The Board will likely also review a re-alignment of its management structure, eliminating, adding and re-titling a number of positions, and changing some reporting arrangements.

As of April 2016 there was a total of 23 college positions classified as Senior Executive Staff, including President Jack Quinn. The positions include:

President ECC $192,500.00
Senior VP for Operations $140,000.00
Chief Admin & Fin Officer $135,252.00
Exec VP Academic Affairs $120,360.00
Exec VP Student Affairs $117,300.00
Assoc VP Health Sciences $109,242.00
Assoc VP Liberal Arts $96,073.00
Assoc VP Data Analysis & Sys In $95,000.00
Assoc VP IRAAP $95,000.00
Dir Office Equity/Diversity $94,156.00
Assoc VP Found & Alum Rel $91,800.00
Assoc VP Enrollment Mgt $90,000.00
Dir Human Resources $87,500.00
Assoc VP of Coll Safety & Security $75,500.00
Asst to President ECC $63,750.00
Asst Dir Human Resources $60,000.00
Exec Sec to the Pres & BOT $58,957.00
Special Assist to Cfo $51,889.76
Asst to Dir of Human Res $50,000.00
Asst to the EVP Academic Affairs $46,000.00
Confidential Office Assistant $45,073.00
Asst to Exec VP Legal Aff $42,840.00
Asst to the SVP Operations $42,000.00

The audit of the School, released in January of this year by the Office of the State Comptroller, called for better management of personnel functions, particularly for staff who are not covered by one of the school’s collective bargaining units. The audit found a personnel system where pay increases, time-keeping, and use of leave time were poorly managed.

The personnel resolution does not affect President Quinn. It provides for a one-time retroactive payment equal to three percent of a covered employee’s salary for 2015-16, followed by two percent increases in base salary for each of the next four years, beginning in September 2016.

The salary increases, in and of themselves, are in line with many other places of employment. The three percent retro pay will cost approximately $54,000 and the two percent salary increase for 2016-17 will amount to $36,000. To that $90,000 total add approximately twenty percent for benefits tied to base salaries. The Board resolution states that the “College has adequate funds available in its 2016-17 budget to fund this expense.”

The raises will be subject to an employee receiving a “favorable annual performance evaluation.”

The thing is, ECC is not sitting in a good financial position. The school is heavily dependent on tuition as revenue. Enrollment dropped 20 percent between 2010 and 2015. Enrollment in the current Fall 2016 semester is down about seven percent from last year, a bigger drop than anticipated. Further declines are anticipated to continue for the next several years. The school has raised tuition three years in a row, to a level that places it among the three most expensive community colleges in the state. The School has been using its reserves, which could create a problem for their next accreditation review.

The wage portion of the Board’s proposed action states that “all increases effective September 1, 2017 and thereafter will also be based upon the fiscal stability of the college as determined by the College President.” By the school’s own admission during budget preparations, future financial stability is questionable.

On the plus side for the School’s finances, the Board’s actions will increase the portion of medical insurance costs that employees will shoulder. Changes in medical benefits for retirees are also in the works. SES employees hired after November 1, 2016 will receive no ECC contribution for the costs of their medical insurance when they retire. Projected savings from the changes in medical insurance cost sharing are not reported.

Regardless of the merits of the proposed raises and their relatively small portion of the College’s annual $110 million budget, the optics of raising the salaries of senior management, operating with limited financial resources while considering academic cuts, are not good. Extending the proposed salary increases over four years seems like a more ambitious financial promise than is presently warranted by the reality of the school’s finances.

The Board’s resolution establishes a parental leave policy (up to six month, unpaid), and also extends various other benefits to SES which parallel benefits provided to members of the School’s Administrators union. SES employees will be allowed to work a variable or flex schedule with the approval of their supervisor. Offering telecommuting as a work option was considered but dropped from the final package.

Strategic Alignment

The ECC Board of Trustees on Monday is also expected to consider a plan to reorganize its management structure. The goals of the restructuring include reducing costs and maximizing efficiency; reducing duplication of services; and providing “immediate relief to academic leadership.”

The main feature of the realignment is to combine the divisions of Academic Affairs and Student Affairs. The plans also include moving the senior vice president for operations position to a level on the organization chart that is on a par with the CFO and the provost (formerly known as the executive vice president for academic affairs).

Previously the School’s executive vice president of legal affairs played a large role in human resources management. That position has been eliminated and a new title of Associate Vice President of Human Resources will assume some of the duties.

Other proposed structural changes are included in the areas of safety and security and equity and diversity.

The presentation to the Board suggests that the realignments proposed will save a cumulative $305,022. No details are provided in the PowerPoint to explain that conclusion.

Some observers might suggest that the proposed restructuring might be offered to slot certain positions for incumbents for continued employment after the next president of the College takes office. The resolution notes that “SES serve at the pleasure of the President.” The timing of all these moves might also be questioned by some, given that a new president will be in place in about seven months. He or she will undoubtedly have their own manner of organizing their cabinet.

What is still left on the table

The personnel resolution is intended to address a portion of the State Comptroller’s recommendations for improvement, but there is more to be done, or to be reported. Various purchasing practices were criticized in the audit, as were the operations of two affiliated organizations of the school that manage services for students.

The School so far has not made much progress in making its operations transparent. As noted in a previous post, there are no written Board minutes on the School’s website. Even the attempt to be cute about it by placing videos of past Board meetings on the website fails because the majority of the links to such videos lead nowhere. The same is true if you click on “Board Agendas” on the site.

All of the things referenced in the audit and these two proposed actions of the Board also leave untouched more global issues such as the sustainability of three ECC campuses and options for consolidations or cooperative agreements with other community colleges in neighboring counties. The demographics of the Western New York region and limited taxpayer resources for community colleges make it essential that ECC treat the changes they will consider at the next meeting to be nothing more than baby steps on the road to success in higher education. Start here, go anywhere!