Staff trustee candidates address budget issues

By Christopher Robbins

Money was on the minds of the three candidates for the staff trustee position on Thursday.

Salary cuts, lay-offs, furloughs, benefits and raises were dominant issues in an open forum at the W. T. Young Library.

Candidates for the position of staff trustee for the UK Board of Trustees appeared before the university Staff Senate and addressed issues that UK will face in the coming years. Each individual  answered questions on how they would deal with budget constraints caused by lower recurring funds from state tax revenue.

“I don’t know where the money will come from,” said candidate Michael Adams, a member of the staff senate and a 12-year UK employee. “We’re tied to the taxes.”

Adams emphasized his ability to work with all levels of UK employees and his experience managing a business before coming to UK as his qualifications. He pointed out that UK’s situation could be far worse.

“Other universities have been laying off staff and we’ve been blessed that, that hasn’t happened here,” he said.

Candidate Jann Burks outlined the need for creative thinking on the departmental level to come up with a solution that minimizes the impact of the budget squeeze.

“Every department is going to have to make some changes,” said Burks, a 4-H youth development specialist in the College of Agriculture who is serving her fourth term as an officer in the staff senate.

Burks said she wants to see staff more involved in decision-making at UK and would use communication technology to make sure  staff working off the university’s main campus are also represented on the Board of Trustees.

Burks promised not to support any reductions in staff compensation or benefits up front, but suggested the university consider offering early retirement and reduced work hours on a voluntary basis to reduce expenditures.

The candidates acknowledged an increase in the cost of health benefits to UK staff members loomed as a freeze on employee compensation is being considered for the third straight year.

“Getting a raise is critical if there is going to be an increase in the cost of benefits,” said candidate Sheila Brothers. Brothers is a 15-year UK staff member currently working in the Office of the Senate Council and formerly served on the staff senate. Brothers named monetary compensation as her No. 1 issue.

Brothers said she wants to use the staff senate as a sounding board to make sure she represents the views of her constituents. If elected to the staff trustee position, she promised to make sure the trustees understood the impact their decisions have on UK’s 12,000 staff members. She suggested setting up a listserv to connect with her staff constituents and solicit their input on issues before the Board of Trustees.

Brothers recommended looking at cutting underused benefits to trim UK’s budget.

“We might also look at extra benefits, like incentives offered to some staff that aren’t offered to everyone else,” Brothers said. “Perhaps these things should be terminated.”

All three candidates expressed confidence that UK would emerge from the hard times ahead, but remained realistic about the challenges they would face as a member of the Board of Trustees.

“We won’t see recurring funds coming back in the near future,” Adams said. “We are going to see many years of shortfalls at state levels.”

The UK Board of Trustees has 20 members who serve 6-year terms. Two trustees represent the faculty, one the student body and one the staff. The governor appoints the remaining 16 trustees.