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Shed a tear for YSU employees

Published: Sun, December 12, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

“Just when I thought that I was out, they pull me back in.”

— Michael Corleone, in “The Godfather III,” speaking of his Mafia rivals.

That comment aptly describes this writer’s relationship with the classified employees at Youngstown State University. Two weeks ago, the column headlined, “YSU’s future is bleak,” was meant to be the last one on the troubled institution for this year.

But then came the front page story Thursday on the bonus checks — that’s right, b-o-n-u-s — 400 members of the Association of Classified Employees will be cashing shortly, and once again “they pull me back in.”

But rather than rail against the greed that seems endemic of public sector employment, today’s column is offered as a condolence to those poor souls in ACE.

This Christmas will be the last for the bonuses. The gravy train has left the station.

Let us shed a tear for all those employees who are not administrators, faculty, professional staff or police officers. They will have to suffer (if such a word can be applied to employment at YSU) like the rest next Christmas.

Lighter this year

There’s another reason to sympathize with these harried public employees: The bonus checks they will receive in the next couple of weeks are lighter than the ones they got last Christmas.

Here’s a run down of their shake down: 2008, $1,125 each; 2009, $4,500; this year, $2,625. Grand total: $8,250.

Had more academic shlubs enrolled at Youngstown State for the 2010-11 semester, it would have been “Happy Days Are Here Again” in the sunny climes of the tropics. Winters in Ohio do chill the soul.

However, the $2,625 will allow for a trip to Florida – to scope out retirement communities.

The bonuses granted to ACE employees are the result of higher enrollments, even though members of the union had little or nothing to do with the increased number of students.

If anyone deserves credit, it’s former President George W. Bush, who drove the national economy into a recession, which created massive job losses, which resulted in the nation’s universities and colleges becoming havens of last resort, thereby enabling them to set enrollment records.

Why, then, was it necessary for former YSU President Dr. David Sweet and the board of trustees at the time to even consider a bonus plan for the classified workers? Because the administration and trustees wanted the union to drop a lawsuit pertaining to two additional personal days.

They figured it would be cheaper playing Santa Claus than agreeing to the additional time off — with pay.

Even so, the total cost of the bonuses is several million dollars.

Add that to the pay raises and other incentives all employees of the university received in the three-year contracts that expire next summer, and it’s clear YSU had dug itself into a deep financial hole.

And when the state cut back on funding for higher education, YSU found the hole getting even deeper.

Tuition, fees

So, the administration and trustees responded in the only way possible — they stuck it to the students through increases in tuition and fees.

Thus it is, that the “Ho! Ho! Ho!” of this Christmas and the Christmases past for the ACE employees will become “No! No! No!” next year.

It will be a cold day in hell before another bonus proposal is even considered by the trustees. Why? Because the customers of YSU — the students and parents — won’t stand for it.

Neither will the new governor of the state of Ohio, Republican John Kasich, and the Republican-controlled Ohio General Assembly. Kasich has already served notice that the winds of change he will be blowing across the public sector will get rid of the dead wood and the inefficiencies built into government.

YSU will not be in a position to make a pitch for more money from Columbus if employees are pocketing raises and other financial sweeteners.

Indeed, all the state’s universities and colleges will be under the gun to demonstrate that they not only are operating as efficiently as possible, but that students are getting real value for the money they’re spending in tuition and fees.

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