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updated: 5/4/2010 10:02 AM

COD faculty asked for concessions to close budget gap

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Efforts to close a $3.3 million budget shortfall in the coming year at the College of DuPage are being met with resistance from employees and their union leaders.

COD President Robert Breuder wants to shrink the work year, increase health insurance co-payments and start charging employees some tuition costs if they or family members take COD classes. He said those changes would shrink the budget gap by more than $1.4 million.

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The faculty association, which represents more than 300 union employees at COD, rejected Breuder's latest proposal. They had sought a two- to three-year contract extension in exchange for the concessions, Breuder said. College officials said other employee groups also balked at the proposed cuts.

COD spokesman Joe Moore said administrators would now "be looking at other avenues to close the gap."

Only administrators and part-time staff had agreed to Breuder's proposal, Moore said.

Board of Trustees Chairwoman Kathy Wessel said the concession requests were fair.

"I don't think anything we're asking for is unreasonable," she said.

The college's work year is 168 days, but Breuder's proposal would have reduced the year to 165 days while faculty and staff would be paid for 166. That would create a savings of $353,130, officials said.

Individual health care co-pays range from 4 to 10 percent depending on employee classification, while family coverage co-pays range from 13 to 16 percent. Increasing co-payments to 20 percent across the board would save an estimated $830,000 annually.

Also, it currently costs the college about $750,000 each year to cover tuition costs for employees and employees' family members. By requiring employees to pay a third of those tuition costs instead, Breuder said, the college would save $251,009 each year.

Other initiatives, such as cutting travel, reduced spending on office supplies and eliminating some overtime will account for another $1.9 million in the budget.

Faculty Senate President Nancy Stanko said the faculty is the only employee group being asked to take a pay cut because they are the only group affected by the shorter work year concession.

"We were asked to take more," she said. "Giving up two days would be a reduction in salary, and that's a big difference right there."

She was also concerned that Breuder was making these negotiations public.

"It's very disappointing," Stanko said. "I'd like to say more, but I can't negotiate in public like the president is doing."

She also argued that the financial picture isn't as dire as Breuder is making it appear. Stanko said cuts have already been made in staffing, and with enrollment and tuition costs up over the past year, the faculty is taking on more responsibilities for less pay already.

In addition, she said the college's reserve fund increased greatly in the last year.

Breuder said he countered the faculty union's contract extension proposal with an offer of a one-year extension and the termination of a lucrative retirement package. Breuder said he planned to seek an end of the "earned compensation window" in the next round of faculty contract negotiations. The earned compensation window is essentially a retirement bonus that is paid out during the first few years of employees' retirement on top of their pension. The bonus amounts to about 125 percent of the employee's final annual salary, Breuder said.

The faculty group rejected that proposal as well.

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