By Sean P. Mulhall – Editor-in-Chief
Following the unanimous approval of the 2015-16 budget, which included a $2 per credit hour hike in tuition, the Grand Rapids Community College Board of Trustees approved 2 percent raises in the contracts of many GRCC employees Monday afternoon.
The board was divided on these contracts, especially the first, the Meet and Confer (non-union positions with benefits) pay schedule, delivered by the Executive Director of Human Resources, Catherine Wilson. Wilson informed the board of the raise in employee salaries based on the merit system.
This raised concern for many on the board and when the issue was open for discussion, every trustee, as well as President Steven Ender, had an opinion. After Trustee Richard Ryskamp said that it felt like an across the board raise and that the college wasn’t in the right place financially to be raising everyone’s salary, the newest member of the board, Cynthia Bristol asked if any of the available dollars had come from the recent hike in tuition.
While the dollars are not coming straight from tuition into the pockets of Meet and Confer employees, Ender offered an explanation.
“Less than one dollar, closer to 50 cents will cover the compensation to these employees,” Ender said. “So even if we hadn’t done this, we still would have had to raise tuition $1.50 (per credit hour).”
Trustee Richard Stewart expressed his “deep concern” about dropping enrollment to the board over the phone.
“I see this as a very troublesome trajectory,” Stewart said. “Not only are we raising tuition but putting the burden of higher costs on fewer people. This concerns me greatly about the sustainability of the community.”
Bristol said the vote was “agonizing” and read from a prepared statement.
“I am deeply troubled about this vote,” Bristol said. “I cannot say how much I value work ethic of employees and the connection I have with them … My heart is with the students … I fully recognize that in order to retain you gifted employees … we must offer salary increases. On the other hand the increases in tuition and fees create a struggle for these students.
“I find it conflicting that I voted for a raise in tuition fees and now I’m faced with voting for a raise in salaries … I can’t bring myself to vote for this.”
Ryskamp echoed the thoughts of Stewart and Bristol, but he did distinguish that good work should be rewarded, not just handed out to everyone.
“I’m all in favor of merit increases, but this sounds like an across the board pay increase,” Ryskamp said. “There are many people here doing an outstanding job … but at this particular time, for the sake of our students I don’t think that we can do this. So I will be voting against any of these contracts, that are across the board pay increases and would encourage my colleagues to do the same.”
Trustee Deb Bailey was explaining that it is not across the board when Ender stepped in to clarify.
“If you didn’t get a pay increase this year you are on a performance improvement plan,” Ender said. “The level of your work and the accomplishments you make, the way you do your job and the goals that you set begin to determine if your going to fall where you are in the quartile of your job. You’re going to get a .5 to a 2.5 (percent) pay increase … If you’re not performing well, you’re in the performance improvement plan, you’re not going to get a raise and if you don’t get through that plan you’re going to leave the institution.”
After more discussion from other board members, chairperson Bert Bleke put the new contract to a vote. Bristol and Stewart voted no and Ryskamp abstained. Bailey, Ellen James, Richard Verburg and Bleke all voted yes. The motion passed and four more contracts were voted on. Executives that work directly with the president, the support staff, CEBA (facilities workers) and the president’s contracts were all up for a vote.
Bristol joined Bailey, James, Verburg and Bleke voting yes on all other contracts. Ryskamp joined Stewart, voting no on all except the CEBA contracts, which interestingly enough sounded like the only across the board pay increase.
These votes do not affect the 2015-16 budget. According to Vice President of Finance and Administration, Lisa Freiburger, the 2 percent pay increases were already estimated as part of the budget.