University of Colorado employee bonuses

Following up on my note the other day about a University of Colorado employee who hopes that voters won't find out about upcoming bonuses for CU employees because it might hurt the chances of Prop 103 passing, I have more information to offer:

The bonuses do exist, and will be 3% of annual salary for employees of divisions of the CU system that met certain budget-cutting and performance requirements, and only those employees who rank 2 or 3 in their 1-3 system of job performance (2 being meets expectations, 3 being exceeds expectations.)

Conservative Republican CU Regent Sue Sharkey offered these comments by e-mail:

Some things I would like to emphasize, the individual campuses had to meet certain goals, budget, etc. before they could give this increase, the increase is a one  time payout for targeted individuals.  This was an incentive for both, the campuses, and employees.  My thought on this as a Conservative, that employees should be rewarded for performance, not just across the board increase for all employees, and I like the fact that this put pressure on the campuses to reach budget goals, reductions, so forth...

The Board of Regents voted on this last April, the goals were to be met by the first of October.  There was no conspiracy to have this done to influence the outcome of Prop 103. Also, Ross this was voted on in Public session.

She also offered some data:

  • CU’s state funding has declined by more than $55 million over the past three years and will again this year (maybe another $12 million).
  • The university has addressed the situation by making significant cuts (338 positions), finding  efficiencies and targeting new revenues.
  • CU employees have not had salary increases in three years; meanwhile, costs such as health care are increasing.
  • Over the past three years, enrollment has grown by more than 2,000 student FTE and research funding is at record highs, but CU's workforce has shrunk.
  • CU’s workforce does more with less, and we are continually in danger of losing top faculty.
  • Administrative overhead is 44 percent below the national average.
  • The Board of Regents set budget targets for each campus to meet before increases were triggered.
  • Increases were based on performance and were not across the board.

I appreciate Sharkey's position here and the efforts of CU employees to do more with less. If anything these bonuses reflect the damage done to higher education by the existence of Amendment 23 which put K-12 spending on auto-pilot without requiring any increase in student performance measures to get more taxpayer money for public schools -- or more precisely for teachers' unions.

Nevertheless, it remains very interesting that a CU employee would hope (in writing) that voters don't find out about these bonuses. And while I appreciate the sacrifices made by the CU system while K-12 spending is protected by the poorly conceived Amendment 23, nevertheless things are tough all over. Colorado suffers from more than 8 percent unemployment. Very few in the private sector are getting raises or bonuses; most are happy to still have a job. And perhaps that's how CU employees should feel as well.

One other thing of note: Those who merited a 2, i.e. meeting job expectations, are getting the same bonus (as a percentage of one's salary) as those who merited a 3, i.e. exceeding expectations. I don't like that at all. If I were someone who felt a need to offer an incentive to employees during a time of budget cuts, I would have given the 2s either no bonus, or a bonus much less than the 3s got, perhaps 1 percent of salary versus 3 percent of salary.

Again, what troubles me the most is a public sector employee, whose salary is paid by the rest of us, expressing the view that he hopes voters remain ignorant about how taxpayer money is being spent -- and that at least one other public sector employee seconded that view.

No doubt the "optics" of the situation are bad for the tax raisers: A bonus being paid to (some) CU employees while we're being asked to raise our state income tax bills by eight percent sure doesn't look good. I do not suggest rescinding these bonuses, but I remain steadfastly against Proposition 103. Instead, what we need to do is repeal Amendment 23 and restore some balance to higher education funding in comparison to K-12 funding, and at least as importantly to inject competition into the K-12 teaching system. As long as the Colorado Education Association fights against merit pay and charter schools and vouchers and the ability to fire bad teachers, voters should refuse to send one additional penny into the public K-12 system.

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