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March 4, 2010

Will salary freeze be lifted?

Will a pay raise for Pitt employees be part of next year’s University budget? Administrators say they’ll try to make it happen.

Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, following his Feb. 23 testimony before the House of Representatives appropriations committee, told the University Times, “I have great respect for the University’s planning and budgeting process which will move forward to develop and tender a recommendation to me. I also will say that it is a clear and high priority to try to do something to lift the salary freeze during the next budget year.

“What flexibility we will have does depend upon the outcome of these processes but we do place a high value on the people who do the work that makes Pitt the good place that it is. And so finding a measure of relief on the compensation front will be one of our highest priorities moving forward.”

The University Planning and Budgeting Committee (UPBC) begins meeting this month to develop a budget recommendation — including recommendations regarding the salary pool — to present to the chancellor who, in turn, will submit proposed University budgets to the Board of Trustees for action.

In the wake of University belt-tightening and a pay freeze imposed on Pitt employees for FY10 in response to last year’s cuts to Pitt’s state appropriation, concerns for the future are high, particularly as the University may be facing no increase in state funding in the coming fiscal year.

Although legislators in Harrisburg have yet to finalize the University’s appropriation for next year, Gov. Edward G. Rendell’s budget proposal for FY11, presented last month, would hold funding for Pitt, and its fellow state-related universities Penn State, Temple and Lincoln, flat for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Pitt’s budget isn’t set until its state appropriation, which makes up approximately 10 percent of the University budget, is finalized.

In discussion about next year’s budget during the University Senate budget policies committee’s Feb. 26 meeting, BPC chair John J. Baker told members, “I think it would be very good if the University can give a salary increase, especially after a salary freeze. I wouldn’t expect it to be large.”

Commenting on the governor’s proposal, Baker said, “It’s good news in that it wasn’t a cut but I think it’s going to present problems. As you know last year we had a 4 percent tuition increase and no salary increases. (See July 23 University Times.)

Given that tuition and the state appropriation are the sources for Pitt’s salary pool dollars, Baker said, “So, if we have the same budget — we can’t extrapolate directly — but you know costs are going up, and you know the University is going to be reluctant to raise tuition beyond a certain level, but the reality is, for us to get a pay raise it’s going to come out of tuition.”

Under the University’s planning and budgeting document, the BPC chair (or another BPC designee) and a representative of the Staff Association Council (SAC) are among the 22 voting members of UPBC.

BPC and SAC typically submit salary pool recommendations to UPBC, but do not announce their recommendations publicly until after the chancellor announces the upcoming year’s salary pool.

Baker said, “My own philosophy on this is that the pay raise pool probably should at least be equal to the cost of living,” adding that most years the average raises allow Pitt employees to maintain their salary levels or make some progress. “Whether we’ll get that or not, I don’t know.”

BPC pro-tem member Phil Wion noted that last year’s pay freeze fortunately coincided with an inflation-free year. “But now the relevant figure is 2.7 percent,” he pointed out.

Baker invited BPC members to direct any input they may have regarding the upcoming University budget to him or other members of UPBC.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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