Pierce instructors face possible pay changes

Pierce College mail servers were ablaze in early November after news of proposed salary cuts caught most instructors off guard. The proposed 3 percent cut to their salaries has full-time instructors fired up at the thought of doing the same job for less money.

“Before too long, I’ll be paying the school system for the privilege of being abused every day,” science instructor Nancy Mouat-Rich wrote in an e-mail to her co-workers.

Lawmakers in Olympia have made budget cuts to programs they have categorized as non-essential state functions as public pressure mounts for fiscal responsibility. One of these areas is postsecondary education.

The current state-mandated cuts impact the college’s classified employees such as administrative assistants, librarians and technicians. The cuts reduce the number of hours classified employees work with the goal of trimming labor costs by 3 percent overall.

These employees, who are the union called the Washington Public Employees Association, will get paid the same but will work fewer hours. Employees who make less than $30,000 per year are exempt from the cuts.

Pierce College senior administrators and executive team members have voluntarily agreed to take similar cuts themselves and have asked instructors to do the same.

While the Legislature only mandated cuts to classified employees, it specifically made reductions to the college’s funding equivalent to a 3 percent cut from all three employee categories—classified, administrative and faculty.

The college’s full-time faculty members recently were given a contract proposal that suggests their salaries also should be cut by 3 percent.

“It is highly regrettable that aspects of our state system inevitably lead to cutting support for education at exactly those times when there is (the) most demand,” said math instructor Larry Wiseman in an e-mail response to another faculty member.

Pierce College leaders were required reduce spending by almost $3 million for the 2010-11 year.

“In some cases, we permanently took positions off the books or left others temporarily vacant,” Vice President of Administrative Services Joann Wiszmann said.

Wiszmann continued to share other cost cutting measures such as controlling utility expenses and terminating the lease for the Continuing Education Center on South Hill. She said the goal is to find a delicate balance between access and success.

“Sadly, we’ve had significant tuition increases in each of the past three years and are already scheduled for another one next year,” Wiszmann said.

Washington’s state colleges are expected to service 40,000 fewer students this year as a result of cost-cutting measures. Pierce has been able to minimize the impact on students and hasn’t had to cut from this year’s budget. The year, however, is not over.

Washington operates on a biennial budget, while Pierce operates on an annual budget. This can make budget forecasting nearly impossible. State lawmakers can make changes retroactive and force colleges to meet budgetary guidelines. Pierce administrators have kept this in mind and left funds available to compensate for just such a scenario.

But even with smart forward thinking financial planners at the helm, their would still be no way to fully prepare for the $3.3 million hit forced on the college by lawmakers in Olympia. And there is a possibility that number will continue to climb depending on the results of the legislator’s special session.

With nearly 85 percent of Pierce’s operating budget for salaries and benefits, it’s not hard to see where cuts may need to be made. Classified employees and administrators who volunteer for the pay cut will see their 3 percent slash as of July 1, 2012. Instructors, on the other hand, are a separate matter.

“We would need to bargain any salary reduction with the union,” said Wiszmann, referring to the Pierce College Federation of Teachers, which would negotiate the proposed reduction in instructors’ salaries.

College officials proposed the 3 percent cut to instructors’ salaries during bargaining for the educators’ contract. Since salaries are part of mandatory contract discussions, the proposed cut must be negotiated.

The average instructor at Pierce College earns about $52,000 per year. The proposed reduction represents about a $30 decrease in weekly paychecks. The reduction only applies to the instructor’s base pay and will not affect voluntary summer work or moonlighting by teaching additional classes. College officials are looking to cut $228,000 from instructors’ wages.

This represents a total savings in labor costs of $658,000 once $270,000 is removed for classified employees and $150,000 is voluntarily taken from administrators. After that is taken into account, there’s still $2.1 million in mandated cuts.

But for some instructors this could have a significant impact.

“We have single parents with children trying to make ends meet,” said Leon Khalsa-Maulen, psychology instructor and past PCFT union vice president.

“They are feeding and housing a family on a salary that has seen very little change in years.”

This is not the only area where decisions like this can have an impact. According to Khalsa-Maulen and John Lucas, another Puyallup campus instructor and current PCFT vice president, salary reductions such as the one proposed can negatively impact students by making the college less competitive when trying to attract new professors.

“We want to make sure we get the best candidates,” Khalsa-Maulen said. Pierce College pays its full-time and part-time instructors less when compared to equivalent community colleges, according PCFT members.

“If you compare our salaries to the colleges around us, we earn about $4,000 less than our peers at other schools,” PCFT President Beth Norman said.

She added faculty members advising registering students and serving on committees fill the gaps after instructors leave and are not replaced. Frustrations continue to grow as the work load increases and the prospect of a pay cut looms.

Full-time faculty members, who have been working under a contract extension since last June, are negotiating a new agreement but 10 of the 40 points are still under contestation, according to Norman. If faculty members don’t come to agreement, then mediation or arbitration could occur.

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The Puyallup Post is the award-winning student news of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2017. Twitter/Instagram @puyalluppost

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Pierce instructors face possible pay changes

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