By Bertram de Souza
In just a matter of weeks, Youngstown State University has gone from walking on a $5,275,000 cloud — the windfall from a 1,000-student enrollment increase — to staring into a fiscal abyss.
What happened? Only the expected.
First some background: This fall semester’s full-time enrollment is 14,682, which is about 1,000 students more than YSU had in the fall of 2008. It resulted in the 2009-10 budget of $150 million being boosted by $5.2 million. And, that had the university’s spin meisters tossing out verbal bouquets like the bonuses the administration, led by Dr. David Sweet, and seven of the eight members of the board of trustees gave to 400 employees.
Indeed, the financial windfall served to provide Sweet et al. with badly needed cover for the controversial and publicly embarrassing “gift” to members of the Association of Classified Employees. Each ACE member will receive a $4,500 bonus this year because of the enrollment increase.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the big spin: The university administration and the trustees found out that pride — in the enrollment increase — comes before a fall — in YSU’s fortunes.
On Saturday, Oct. 2, there was a front-page story with this headline: “State cuts, bonuses eat up new revenues.” The story stated that two-thirds of the extra revenue will be gobbled up by the reduction in state funding, while the rest will end up in the pockets of the ACE union members who are being rewarded for doing such a great job in recruiting new students.
On Sept. 20, in reaction to another news story that detailed the bonus provision in the contract, a column appeared in this space with the headline “‘Come to YSU, we even have computers.’” The piece oozed sarcasm about the role employees in the ACE union played in the enrollment campaign.
The column attracted dozens of comments on Vindy.com, The Vindicator’s website, and several e-mails to this writer.
The following one certainly was an attention grabber:
“hey bert nice job on the a.c.e. workers at ysu...now show some gonads which u lack when it comes to going after the big bois in town an name the board members who ok’d the contract. if not for them the workers would not have gotten the money. btw bet u wouldn’t turn down 4500 if your bosses said sell me more papers an we will give u a raise. lets see the names bert an the story behind it.”
The vote by the board of trustees for the ACE contract on July 30, 2008, was 7-1. The lone dissenter was Harry Meshel, a long-time Democratic Party pol and former president of the Ohio Senate. Meshel warned that the university was being “overly generous” in the contract.
The seven trustees who voted yes were: Scott Schulick, Atty. John Pogue, Dr. H.S. Wang, Larry DeJane, Millicent Counts, Dr. Sudershan Garg and Dr. Dianne Bitonte Miladore.
As to why they were willing to go along with such an indefensible contract, consider the statement of President Sweet:
“The approval of this contract is yet another reason to celebrate as YSU marks its centennial year.” He added that it was “a step forward in improving and continuing to improve labor-management relations.”
And there was this from then ACE President Ivan Maldonado: “This contract reflects a new era in labor relations at YSU. It’s a new day. We’re moving forward.”
Where’s Ivan today? Go to Vindy.com and do a search for him. Quite a story.
The Sept. 20 column also triggered this response:
“I am so sick seeing the State handing over bushels of OUR money to institutions like YSU and then letting administrators hand it out like candy to staff just to keep staff as supporters to ensure they keep their own overpaid positions. Its like the newly elected politicians paying back campaign workers. What happened to the state budget crisis?”
“Keep up the good work exposing the predatory unions and their greed at YSU. You seem to be the only one who cares, even among those students and taxpayers who are getting the big time rip-off. Those who are supposed to be providing oversight seem to have their heads in the sand. Or, maybe they just want to be “team players.”
Why are the keepers of the public purse so blind to economic realities?