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August 10, 2001

Early retirement replacement plan likely

Anne Krapfl
Iowa State's current early retirement program will cease when its June 30 expiration date arrives next summer. At its July meeting in Cedar Falls, the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, decided not to extend the program beyond June 30, 2002. However, the regents also outlined a process for developing a replacement program for regents schools that want one after July 1, 2002.

According to that timeline, at their November meeting, the regents would approve a single set of principles proposed jointly by the five regents schools. Those principles would become the base for developing program proposals. No later than the February 2002 meeting, the regents would approve proposals for university-specific early retirement programs. Any proposal would have to comply with the principles.

Warren Madden, vice president for business and finance, said he's hopeful the process can be completed before February. He said both employees and managers need to know what their post-June 30, 2002, options are --and what the financial responsibilities could be -- as soon as possible.

Planning process
Madden said he will ask the University Benefits Committee to take the lead on developing Iowa State's proposed principles. He called the committee "as broad-based a group as we have here at Iowa State." Because of their service, committee members also have some background in early retirement and benefit alternatives. Madden said the major campus constituent groups, such as the Faculty Senate and P&S Council, will be asked to provide input as well.

Iowa State leaders had urged the regents to continue the existing program for several years, while University of Iowa officials asked that it be discontinued, arguing that it was no longer meeting the school's goals. In spite of their different stances, Madden said he thinks Iowa State, University of Iowa and University of Northern Iowa officials can agree on a list of guiding principles. They don't have to agree on a single plan, he noted.

Included in the regents' July decision was the caveat that each university president would have the option of allowing up to a two-year enrollment grace period to employees who qualify next June 30 to participate in the current early retirement incentive option. President Gregory Geoffroy said he expects to wait until the guiding principles are approved and a new program proposal is developed before he makes a decision on granting enrollment extensions for the current program.

Who uses it
Over the last 10 years, an average of 66 ISU employees per year have participated in the early retirement incentive program. But that 10-year list shows great fluctuation: the high was 104; the low was 32. Madden said that on June 30, 2002, just over 500 ISU employees may qualify to participate in the current early retirement program. If statistics of averages hold, about one-third of those will ask to participate in the program, according to human resource services director Carla Espinoza.

Not all who apply for early retirement receive a "yes" answer, said Madden and Espinoza. The early retirement incentive program is not an entitlement -- the "you've earned it" approach. Instead, it is a tool that helps units respond to workplace changes, they said. The minimum qualifications in the current program are reaching age 57 and accruing at least 15 years of service at ISU.

Madden noted that, currently, some ISU units turn down all requests for early retirement; others have set higher age-service minimums for their employees. Because the costs of an employee's early retirement are borne by his or her unit, that unit's leaders (and higher administrators) approve or deny early retirement requests based on budget and program needs.

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