WHEELING - A consultant's report that would have reshaped the salary structure for higher education employees in West Virginia has come in "incomplete" and is "not usable," according to the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission.
Minneapolis-based Fox Lawson & Associates was to be paid about $400,000 from state taxpayers to set new salary schedules for classified and non-classified employees and faculty at the state's colleges and universities, as required by West Virginia Senate Bill 330, passed in 2011. Higher Education Policy Commission spokeswoman Jessica Tice said the report from Fox Lawson, received late last month, has a number of issues.
She said Fox Lawson provided salary surveys for 98 classified positions and also two- and four-year faculty that "are not usable because Fox Lawson did not create unique peer groups for each of our institutions as required by SB 330."
"The faculty salary data Fox Lawson has produced does not differentiate between, for example, (West Virginia University's) peers and any other West Virginia school's peers," she said. "The need to create unique peer groups for each of our institutions was an explicit element of the contract. Without the ability to distinguish between the faculty and non-classified salaries paid to the statutory peers for each of West Virginia's separate higher education institutions - as opposed to salaries paid by an amalgam of all of the public higher education institutions in West Virginia - the information Fox Lawson provided simply does not satisfy the requirements of SB 330.
"Other elements of the report are incomplete as well. As a result, (human resources) staff at the commission are working with the classified portion of the survey results provided to determine whether the 98 ... positions selected by Fox Lawson are appropriate to establish a new classified salary schedule."
The law tasks the commission with updating the salary structure for classified staff, non-classified staff and faculty at West Virginia's higher education institutions.
The HEPC hired Fox Lawson to complete the salary survey, with the first section dealing with "relative market equity" for classified staff - secretaries, electricians, vehicle maintenance and similar jobs.
Tice said commission staff had expressed concern to Fox Lawson about its work since last February. To date, Fox Lawson has been paid almost $200,000 for the salary survey, she said.
Now, the HEPC is being forced to ask another consultant, Mercer Consulting, to assist in revising the Fox Lawson classified data.
"... We are working with Mercer Consulting in an effort to have them review and to assess the results of Fox Lawson's work to determine whether it meets established professional standards and methodologies. In addition, we are hoping Mercer will be able ... to update the classified salary survey numbers to 2013 figures since Fox Lawson's work is based on 2012 data," she said. "With updated, validated classified salary data, we will be in a position to revise the classified salary schedule."
The classified salary structure in West Virginia has not been updated since 2001.
A call to Fox Lawson's offices in Minneapolis seeking comment on the report was not returned.
Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, the bill's lead sponsor, also did not return messages seeking comment.
One of the potential issues with getting an accurate report for SB 330 deals with the law's unique nature.
For example, faculty and staff representatives from WVU, along with others at West Liberty University, question the "relative market equity" concept. The relative market equity study from Fox Lawson was meant to determine the average pay scale for faculty, non-classified and classified staff at all state institutions, and then compare that scale to other HEPC-designated "peer institutions" and also similar jobs in the local community.
The law also requires "internal equity" at each school of 5 percent among the three employee classes. For example, if a school's faculty average pay is at 90 percent of its peers, and its classified and non-classified average pay is at 80 percent, the school would have to find a way to either bring the classified and non-classified average to 85 percent by increasing the salary scale, or lower the faculty pay to 85 percent.
That has led to concern from higher education officials throughout the state that a university such as WVU may not be able to recruit and retain faculty members.
Another issue is that no other state does a salary structure for higher education such as West Virginia is attempting to do through SB 330.
"We know of other states that employ market-driven methodologies for setting campus salaries. We do not know of any other states in which the salaries of different classes of employees within higher education institutions are linked together as they are by SB 330," Tice said.
WVU professor Roy Nutter opposes the law and its implementation. He said employees from all three classifications, along with human resources representatives, have been working hard to shed light on the matter.
"It appears we are making some progress in raising the caution flags here," he said in reference to the report.
As far as a timeline for implementation moving forward, Tice said "the law itself sets various deadlines and recurring reporting requirements far into the future."
"There are three primary components to SB 330: compensation, HR studies and reporting," she said. "The compensation elements of SB 330 are likely to take the longest to implement because they require that we engage an outside consultant to conduct the market studies. The HR studies element of SB 330 is ongoing.
Some studies required by the law, such as how to treat grant-funded employees, may require legislative action before any recommendations can be implemented. Finally, the reporting requirements of SB 330 are recurring in nature and will be a permanent part of the HR duties of the commission."