Retirement program will force colleges to deal with shortages

The first cycle of USF faculty and staff participating in a lucrative retirement program are retiring at the end of this year, leaving some university officials concerned about shortages.

The Deferred Retirement Option Program, or D.R.O.P, implemented by the state Legislature in 1998, allows state employees to place their pension benefits in a trust fund while continuing to work for a period of five years. Their benefits gain interest during that period and are paid out at the end of those five years in one payment or in a combined sum and rollover payment.

John Kuczwanksi, a state spokesman, said the D.R.O.P. program gives employees on the verge of retiring an incentive to remain at their jobs because their benefits increase while they continue to receive a paycheck.

“What we’re doing at this point is retaining an experienced employee for a period of five years,” Kuczwanksi said. But, he added, “Once someone enters the D.R.O.P. program, they are considered to be retired.”

And that’s where the concern over shortages arises.

The first 5-year period of D.R.O.P. ends in 2003, which means all USF faculty and staff who entered the program in 1998 are retiring this year.

“We’re expecting in the forthcoming year a larger number of people retiring,” said USF Provost David Stamps. “We’ll have more vacancies than we’d normally have.”

In addition, Stamps said paying out benefits will cost the Office of Academic Affairs about $1.6 million, but no budget shortfall is expected.

Edwin Steiner, interim associate dean for the College of Education, said his college anticipates losing 10 to 12 people.

“We’re going to lose some very valuable faculty members,” Steiner said. “It’ll be pretty hard to replace these individuals.”

As a result, Steiner said class sizes could increase with some classes facing possible cancellation.

However, Steiner said department chairs and program heads have a plan in place to address the problem.

“They put together a rather formal presentation as to what their needs are,” he said.

The recruitment plan, Steiner said, goes to the provost’s office for approval. Then, he said, a faculty search is initiated based on the number of positions the provost’s office approves for recruitment.

But, even with a plan in place, Steiner said he doesn’t expect all the positions to be filled. He said in certain departments competition makes it harder to recruit.

“There are a few areas where there’s a big demand for faculty,” Steiner said. “It’s not likely we’ll be able to fill 100 percent.”

Phyllis Hamm, personnel director for the College of Arts and Sciences, said her college is experiencing similar problems.

“We’re losing a lot of experienced people,” Hamm said. “It is going to be pretty devastating in my opinion.”

Hamm said the College of Arts and Sciences expects about three staff and 28 faculty members to retire in 2003.

But, Hamm said, a “big recruitment plan” to lure 78 new people has already been approved by the provost’s office.

The problem then becomes a matter of seeing that inexperienced individuals hired by the college adjust to the university.

“It takes a while to get new people to the same level of experience as the people we lost,” Hamm said.

Associate Dean Richard Myer with the College of Business Administration said his college isn’t experiencing any such problems.

While Myer said four people are completing the D.R.O.P. program this year, it isn’t presenting the college with any major staffing hurdles. In fact, Myer said he thinks turnover is a good thing because it fosters a healthy intellectual atmosphere.

“People bring new and diverse ideas, and that’s kind of what a university is all about,” Myer said.

Despite the potential problems facing the College of Education, Steiner said the D.R.O.P. program is “a good option” for state employees.