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Gee can’t guarantee full raises for WVU workers, supports community college bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Public employees have been promised a pay raise of about 5 percent, but West Virginia University President Gordon Gee says he can’t guarantee every college employee will get that.

Gordon Gee

“We cannot say that, no. We cannot say that, but we’re certainly striving toward that,” Gee said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

That’s because the pay raises that Gov. Jim Justice described during his State of the State address come from the state’s General Fund.

West Virginia University and other college in West Virginia receive some general revenue but are also heavily funded through special revenue such as tuition, fees and federal dollars.

“We’ll get about 15 percent of what we need to have,” Gee said, speaking during WVU Day at the state Capitol.

The pay raise described by the governor, plus a surcharge for PEIA that would be drawn from special revenue, concerned higher education officials earlier this month as they presented a proposed budget to the House Finance Committee.

West Virginia’s higher education system anticipates a $20,348,146 shortfall for the raises.

The higher education system anticipates a $14,808,235 cost for the PEIA revenue assessment.

West Virginia University, as the state’s largest institution, would face the biggest effect.

Higher education officials have calculated that WVU could face a $12,499,042 shortfall for the raises plus a cost of $8,756,924 for the PEIA surcharge.

WVU would receive $2.98 million in state funding for the raises, but the cost of raises and fringe benefits if they were fully funded would be $15.5 million.

Marshall University would be next with a $2,594,040 shortfall for raises and a $2,114,292 cost for the PEIA surcharge.

Fairmont State is next with a $586,782 shortfall for raises and a $474,742 cost for the PEIA surcharge.

Gee today expressed gratitude to have some funding to provide raises for standout employees.

“This is the business of the university, which is to recognize and reward its faculty,” he said. “We now have the ability to really reward performance.”

Gee was also asked about Senate Bill 1, passed with fanfare by senators this week. The bill would provide financial aid for students pursuing vocational training through community colleges.

Some college presidents, particularly Fairmont State’s Mirta Martin, have expressed concern that students will have a financial incentive to choose two-year community colleges rather than four-year colleges.

Gee said he supports the bill and its goal of improving West Virginia’s skilled workforce.

“I support the plan. I supported it last year. We have to get rid of this kind of regional notion,” Gee said. “I think this is an economically-important effort on our part.”

Gee has been a co-chairman of the governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education.

He briefly described that group’s work becoming legislation.

“Those are recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Commission,” Gee said. “Legislation is being drafted. We have support from the governor. We have support from the Legislature.”

Finally, Gee was asked if he has any plans to retire. He is 74 years old and retired once already from Ohio State University in 2013. His second term at WVU started in 2014.

He said his return to West Virginia has been a blessing.

“As long as my health is good, as long as I’m able to perform my duties, I want to continue to do what I’m doing because I feel privileged,” he said.

He concluded, “I’ve got a lot of rubber left on my tires, my friend.”

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