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University of Wyoming students

Trapper Rieniets and Garet Morton study together on Feb. 14, 2015 at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. The university's budget for next year includes $5.5 million to provide cost-of-living adjustments and merit-based raises to employees. 

The University of Wyoming board of trustees approved a $497.8 million budget for next year that includes millions for raises and new hires as the school begins to turn a corner away from recent slash-and-burn funding cuts.

The budget, approved unanimously by the board Wednesday morning, includes $5.5 million for raises for university employees. It also includes more than $4 million to hire at least 32 faculty and $453,600 to hire more custodians.

UW staff said last summer that wages had stagnated for years even as the cost of living jumped. Wages, then, effectively declined, and 83 percent of staff earned less than workers at other Wyoming agencies, according to data from the UW Staff Senate.

The university sought to change that. It formed a task force last summer to study the issue, culminating in Wednesday’s decision to approve a budget that would bring relief to UW employees. It’s the first increase in three years, according to a university press release, and will be the first raise for some employees since 2008.

Overall, salary and benefits on campus will increase about 3 percent, according to the release, although raises will be different from employee to employee. The board previously adopted a policy that will set aside 60 percent of the salary increases for cost-of-living adjustments, while the remaining 40 percent will be based on individual employee performance.

In a statement, President Laurie Nichols said the raise pool was “important” and would help the university meet a goal in its strategic plan, the guiding document approved last summer that will take UW into the coming decade.

“Even though our overall budget for the coming fiscal year is essentially flat, we made it a priority to reallocate existing dollars so we might include a pool for salary adjustments (this year),” Nichols said. “This was accomplished without any increase in funding from the state.”

Donal O’Toole, the chair of the Faculty Senate, praised the move Wednesday morning.

“It is a relief after such a drought for raises,” he wrote in an email, adding that credit goes to Nichols. “ ... It was discussed and passed quickly/unanimously by trustees meeting today. I was pleased at that. I suspect they know that we’d continue to bleed people if some gesture was not made toward employees.”

Notifications of raises are expected to be made by mid-July, according to a press release. The raises will be reflected in late August paychecks.

The raises are a positive move for the university, which has faced criticism of late by some faculty. In May, instructors told the Star-Tribune that the board had “swept” as much as $140 million from hundreds of accounts across campus and that the board was moving toward making broad, seemingly unilateral changes to university regulations. A deal between faculty and the board has since been reached on those changes, though some critics remained skeptical.

The budget also helped assuage another faculty concern: staffing levels. Faculty have said that some departments are so thin in terms of instructors that they’re barely able to cover their bases.

That’s a function of the recent financial situation, during which UW lost nearly $42 million in state funding. To help offset it, officials offered two rounds of buyouts for faculty. In the end, more instructors took the university up on its offer than officials had anticipated, which is why they’re hiring now.

The budget sets aside roughly $4.2 million — money saved from those buyouts — to hire at least 32 more faculty. Two of those new hires will work in the outdoor recreation and tourism management degree program, which is new to UW.

Roughly 10 custodians will also be hired, after a need for more help was highlighted in a report. The budget also sets aside money money for the creation of an Office of Engagement and Outreach, which is part of the university’s strategic plan. That office will open in January.

Last year, the university dismantled its previous Outreach School and spread its duties across campus. Officials have said this new office will emphasize serving the state — like promoting more professor lectures — rather than recruitment, as was the duty of the original Outreach School.

Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann

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Education and Health Reporter

Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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