March 17, 2005 Faced with a $2.7 million reduction in their budget from the V.I. government, the University of the Virgin Islands Board of Trustees has resorted to depleting its "rainy day" fund to pay qualifying faculty and staff members a one-time bonus.
At a meeting Thursday, UVI President LaVerne Ragster informed faculty and staff of the board's decision, which was made during executive session at Saturday's quarterly board meeting.
According to a press release issued by the university, Ragster said the board voted to deplete UVI's $3 million Quasi Endowment Fund in order to pay all calculated merit increases through fiscal year 2004. No adjustments will be made to the employees' base salaries, however.
"It's just for those who were expecting merit increases," Patrice Johnson, UVI public relations officers, said Thursday evening.
Johnson said several employees had been waiting since 1999 for pay increases based on the university's merit system that awards employees with gradual pay raises based on job performance.
The newly adopted compensation program offers these employees a one-time merit payout based on the availability of funds, but their salaries will remain the same.
At the video-conferenced meeting, which included staff on both the St. Thomas and St. Croix campuses, Ragster explained that the 25th Legislature's $27.5 million allotment to the university was being reduced by $2.7 million, negatively impacting pay increases, which many of the UVI professors had been counting on.
Last year, several UVI professors sought to form a union because of the compensation issues, but their efforts were met with disapproval from the university's administration. (See "UVI Administration Fighting Faculty Unionization Bid").
"With an overall shortfall of $2.7 million, the university finds itself at a distinct disadvantage to simply meet its current obligations, much less to provide what many see as long overdue salary and merit payouts," the release stated. "In addition, it became clear that the university stood the chance of being thwarted in its efforts to transform the territory without the full support of dedicated employees."
Johnson said because "morale had been very low" among faculty and staff, the board had to figure out a way to pay the employees and voted in favor of depleting the fund.
The Quasi Endowment Fund was developed over the years from the investment of "unrestricted private donations" made to the university.
Johnson said several of the employees expressed appreciation for the payout after Ragster was upfront with them about the fiscal condition of the university. However, several of the new faculty and staff, who will not be receiving the payouts, complained. Johnson said Ragster reminded them that those receiving payouts had been waiting for raises for several years.
UVI will begin rebuilding its Quasi Endowment Fund while continuing to address other salary issues, the release said.
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