March 22, 2012

USM hands out big raises amid cuts

The university defends the salary increases as necessary to retain qualified administrators.

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Forty-four University of Southern Maine employees got salary increases of 3 percent to 41 percent this budget year under a little-known, systemwide position-review program started in 2005 to ensure fair and competitive pay.

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The program's $242,000 impact this year at USM comes to light as the university faces $5.1 million in projected budget cuts in the coming year at its campuses in Portland, Gorham and Lewiston. USM has spent nearly $1 million on raises based on position reviews over the past four years, according to university records.

USM has continued to offer such "salary adjustments" to certain employees -- through the annual Salaried Employees Compensation and Classification Program -- despite staffing cuts and enrollment declines. Meanwhile, most university employees went without raises for the past three years.

News of the position-review program and the resulting raises surprised and angered Ed Collom, a sociology professor and president of the USM faculty union.

Faculty and other employees across the University of Maine System haven't had cost-of-living raises since 2009, and system administrators recently offered the faculty union a 0.5 percent increase after faculty members worked a year without a contract, Collom said.

"We've been told there's no money," Collom said. "This really raises the question: How legitimate are their claims when they can find a quarter of a million dollars to give raises to certain people? I find it appalling that some faculty members are going to lose their jobs in the coming year and yet the administration found money to give these raises. At a time of such fiscal uncertainty, these salary adjustments should be frozen."

Four employees who work directly for USM President Selma Botman received salary increases of 18 percent to 22 percent in the fiscal year that started July 1, based on salary surveys of similar university positions nationwide.

"This is what institutions do to make sure they pay salaries that are competitive and fair," Botman said. "This wasn't a question of giving anyone a 20 percent raise. This is about equity. It's not fair to pay them 20 percent less than people in similar positions at other universities."

Botman sought pay adjustments for Tim Stevens, her chief of staff, whose salary increased $16,500 (18 percent), from $89,500 to $106,000; and Bob Caswell, the university's public affairs director, whose salary increased $18,212 (22 percent), from $87,788 to $106,000. Two staff associates in her office received similar percentage increases when their jobs were reclassified from hourly to salaried positions, resulting in salaries of $40,500 each.

Of the 44 raises granted in fiscal 2012, 10 were grant-funded positions that require no university funding. Raises ranged from $1,400 for wrestling coach Joseph Pistone to $34,514 for executive director of university outreach Monique LaRocque.

USM gave 46 position-review-related raises in fiscal 2011 totaling $316,760; 30 raises in fiscal 2010 totaling $211,483; and 46 raises in fiscal 2009 totaling $202,265. Including the current fiscal year, the university gave 166 individual raises worth $972,585 over the past four years.

During the same period, Botman has neither asked for nor received a salary increase beyond the $203,000 she's been paid since she started in 2008, Caswell said.

GOAL IS WELL-QUALIFIED EMPLOYEES

The Salaried Employees Compensation and Classification Program is followed at the seven universities in the system. Each university reports position reclassifications and resulting salary increases as part of regular payroll data, but the system doesn't formally track the program's totals year to year, said Tracey Bigney, the system's chief human resources officer.

The program was developed by the University of Maine System administration to support the board of trustees' compensation philosophy, according to system documents. The goal is "to attract and retain well qualified, productive employees" with compensation that is "within fiscal resources and in compliance with all applicable rules and laws" and is "competitive with similar positions in relevant labor markets and is internally equitable."

(Continued on page 2)

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USM salaries

Do you think that USM’s salary review program is a good idea?

Yes

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