Administrators at West Virginia University are using a new tactic to try to slow their spending: asking employees if they want to voluntarily leave their jobs.
The program, called the voluntary separation incentive plan, has already been used by one college with another one on the way. Even though WVU was spared from further cuts to its state appropriations in the final state budget lawmakers recently agreed on, colleges and departments at the school are planning ahead for cuts down the road.
“We had a four- to five-year plan for adjusting the size of the law school faculty and staff through voluntary retirements and departures,” said Gregory Bowman, dean of the College of Law. “With the budget challenges that occurred in West Virginia this year, and because there will be challenges for the next several years, I realized that it would be a good idea to accelerate that time period.”
The program offers employees a one-time, lump sum to leave their jobs.
Nine employees — a mix of two faculty members, five classified and two non-classified staff members — took an offer from the college in January to voluntarily leave, totaling $615,000 in lump sum payments.
“If it is a critical role, we may need to replace it, but many times it is not replaced,” said Jim Morris, the school’s assistant vice president for human resources.
Bowman said he is still in the process of determining what positions will be replaced, but he estimated the program will save the college $500,000 annually. He had hoped to save as much as $800,000 annually. Only employees who had worked with the College of Law for 10 years or longer received offers.
That was the first time WVU offered the voluntary separation incentive on a large scale. Prior to that, it only made offers to individual employees when funding was short, if grants fell through or it the department wanted to reallocate resources.
“We had, you know, some inquiries into how we might help organizations in a more broad-based manner,” Morris said.
In the coming weeks, West Virginia University will send out notifications to faculty and staff at the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design asking them if they want to accept the offer. Only full-time, benefits eligible employees will be given offers, according to Morris.
“Beyond cost savings, it can be about reallocating resources,” Morris said. “It might be about getting resources put in programs and in areas that we’re growing rather than in areas” that don’t make sense to grow any more.
Dan Durbin, senior associate vice president for finance, said the Davis College’s budget has largely remained the same throughout the past few years, hovering in the mid $30 million range. About 46 percent of the college’s revenue coming from WVU’s “central allocations,” 31 percent from grants and the remainder from additional tuition and fees from summer programs.
“The consistent budget is a good thing in a way because you’ve got what you had last year,” Durbin said. “But you don’t have any pool of dollars to launch into a different strategic initiatives. … If your stable budget is tied up in stable costs, you don’t have money to be able to invest in programs that attract new federal dollars.”