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Committee mulls bill on college layoff policy

By JAKE JARVIS

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House Education Committee considered on Wednesday a bill that would give public colleges in the state greater flexibility when deciding who to lay off if a staff reduction is needed.

The committee’s substitute for HB 2542, which the committee members approved sending to the House floor by a voice vote, would allow colleges to consider not only an employee’s seniority when considering layoffs, but also their job performance, skill set and other parameters set by each college’s board of governors.

“If there’s a layoff, seniority is important, but job performance — the institutions ought to have the flexibility to count job performance when their making the layoff,” Rob Alsop, West Virginia University’s vice president for legal, government and entrepreneurial engagement, told the committee. “That’s the fundamental thing of what we’re trying to accomplish here.”

The bill would also eliminate the salary schedule for classified employees set by the Higher Education Policy Commission, instead leaving those schedules up to the individual institutions, and would free colleges from the rule capping the ratio of their non-classified employees at 25 percent of the school’s total number of employees.

If approved, the bill would apply automatically to West Virginia University, Marshall University and the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in Lewisburg. Other colleges would have the choice of opting into the provisions of the bill, so long as they receive approval from the HEPC or, if the college is a two-year school, the Council for Community and Technical College Education.

Alsop said that representatives from WVU drafted the bill, along with input from representatives of the other public colleges in the state. A similar bill in the Senate has been sent to the Education Committee but has yet to be taken up.

“Any classified employee that is laid off for any reason whatsoever, colleges have to lay off the least senior employee,” said Bruce Walker, general counsel for the HEPC. “Anyone with higher seniority can bump out someone with a lower seniority.”

HB 2542 effectively gets rid of those bumping rights and would allow colleges to establish their own policies regarding firing classified employees. The bill would not change the procedure for employees to file a grievance, the same procedure followed by other state employees.

“I can see where eliminating bumping rights would be beneficial to the university as a whole but not necessarily for classified staff, particularly those in the trades areas,” said Lisa Martin, chairwoman of WVU’s classified staff council, in an email. “It’s a double-sided sword, as they say.”

Martin said she does not support eliminating those bumping rights.

Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, tried to amend the bill to force a college’s board of governors to hold a public hearing and to consult with the school’s classified staff council and faculty senate before adopting or changing the college’s own personnel rules. The amendment was defeated after the committee’s Vice Chairman Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, told committee members he opposed it.

“I believe it takes away from what the bill is trying to accomplish and is going to add another layer of bureaucracy that [we are] trying to [do] away with, so they can have some flexibility,” Statler said. “That’s what the higher education institutions seem to need with the budget cuts.”

Several delegates asked Alsop if, in an effort to save more money, this legislation would prompt colleges to get rid of senior employees who have larger salaries. Alsop said that wouldn’t necessarily be true, and that senior employees’ experience often is worth more to his school than the school would save by replacing them with a younger, less-experienced employee.

The bill also eliminates the mandate for the HEPC to employ a vice chancellor of human resources. It also directs the HEPC to release its report of higher education human resources metrics, expenses and compensation data every five years instead of annually.

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