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College personnel bill passes Senate, goes to WV governor’s desk

By JAKE JARVIS

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill that would give several public colleges in the state greater flexibility when deciding which employees to lay off cleared the state Senate Tuesday and is waiting for a signature or veto from Gov. Jim Justice.

HB 2542 was approved by the senators Tuesday morning on a 27-7 vote, with a handful of Democrats and one lone Republican, Sen. Patricia Rucker, of Jefferson County, voting against it.

“As the state appropriation support continues to decline, it’s important that the higher education institutions are given more flexibility in areas such as human resources,” said Senate Education Chairman Kenny Mann, R-Monroe. “We have a responsibility to the citizens of this state, and most importantly to our students, to have institutions that are efficient and effective.”

Mann said the bill is needed so that colleges can deal with years of declining enrollment — a more than $60 million decline since 2011 across all public colleges. The lion’s share of those cuts come from West Virginia University’s state appropriations, which Mann said make up about 17 percent of the school’s overall budget.

“As they have further budget reductions, it gets harder to reduce their costs without affecting employees,” Mann said.

If signed by the governor, three colleges would have broad power to set their own policies for firing classified employees, but it would not change the process for those employees file a grievance, the same procedure followed by other state employees.

 The bill’s provisions would apply automatically to WVU, Marshall University and the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine. Other four-year schools would be able to opt-in to the bill after notifying the state’s Higher Education Policy Commission, and two-year schools would be able to join after notifying the Council for Community and Technical College Education.

Representatives from WVU helped draft the bill, and the House of Delegates’ Education Committee Vice Chairman Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, is the bill’s lead sponsor.

The bill would eliminate the “bumping rights” that classified employees have when a college makes layoffs and would allow colleges to consider not only employees’ seniority when considering layoffs, but also their job performance, skill set and other parameters set by each college’s board of governors.

“We have cut these institutions drastically over the last three years in particular,” said Sen. Mark Maynard, R- Wayne, who voted in favor of the bill.

Maynard hopes that colleges having greater flexibility to decide which employees to lay off will let schools save enough money on personnel to prevent raising tuition in the future.

The bill also gets rid of the mandate for the HEPC to employ a vice chancellor for human resources. HEPC still would be permitted to employ such a person, but it wouldn’t be required to do so.

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