Retirements transform MCCC

A new Michigan law intended to encourage school employees to retire is changing the face of MCCC.

The law, which was approved by the state legislature in an attempt to cut school district costs and open the job market, offers a pension benefit multiplier for school employees who retire early.

Of the 50 MCCC employees eligible to retire with this plan, 17 accepted.

“The lawmakers expected a lot more,” MCCC President David Nixon said. “But the number that you’ll see here is about the same percentage as what we’re seeing across the state.”

The retirees had to announce their decisions by June 11, though the law was not passed by the legislature until May 14.

“It’s safe to say that many of the eligible retirees struggled with the decision with less than one month to decide,” Nixon said.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm proposed the law in February with the hope that it would save $680 million over the next year against the $1.5 billion deficit that the education budget now faces.

Though MCCC will be unable to calculate its economic savings until replacements are hired, Nixon said he thinks the college will indeed save money from the retirements.

“When somebody retires after 30 years and they have a high salary, it’s likely that when they are replaced, the salaries will be lower. And that was the lawmakers’ intent,” Nixon said.

In addition to replacing experienced and costly employees with those who are new and start with lower salaries, the law’s purpose also was to open the job field for thousands of new school employees.

To persuade the early retirements, the law offered a 1.6 percent pension benefit multiplier for employees over 55 with at least 30 years of service, in comparison to the 1.5 percent that is usually used to calculate school employee pensions.

Employees whose age and years of service add up to 80 or more would use a 1.55 percent multiplier.

Perhaps the most notable employee retiring from MCCC is Tim Bennett, the vice president of Business Affairs.

According to President Nixon, though Bennett does not technically retire until July 1, he has taken his unused vacation days and is no longer on campus.

Bennett’s position already has been reassigned. President Nixon announced this in an e-mail sent to all MCCC employees.

“Effective immediately, Sue Wetzel has been assigned to the position of Vice President of Administration. She will be responsible for all administrative duties previously held by Tim Bennett,” the e-mail stated. “Dan Schwab will be responsible for managing the financial/budget operation of the College.”

Wetzel previously held the position of director of Institutional Advancement and executive director of the MCCC Foundation.

In addition to her new responsibilities, Wetzel temporarily is continuing to lead both operations.

Also attached with the e-mail was a notice of vacancy for the position of the Executive Assistant to the President and Board of Trustees, formerly held by Lynn Goldsmith.

“She’s retiring after 30 years. Isn’t that something?” President Nixon said. “She started out here as a student, all those years ago.”

Goldsmith’s position has now been filled by Victoria McIntyre.

McIntyre has worked as an adjunct at MCCC as an English instructor since 2001. She was previously the executive assistant to the president of a Monroe bank and its board of directors.

Goldsmith is not the only administrative assistant to be leaving the college this year.

Four other administrative assistants have chosen to retire, including Linda Spenoso of the Business Division, Chris Sims of Information Systems, Annie Germani from Human Recourses, and Carol Eshelman of the Physical Plant.

Eshelman had been planning to retire in March, but delayed her retirement to take advantage of the incentive plan and will now be retiring July 1.

“I think I’ll miss the people,” Eshelman said. “But I would like more time to spend with my family and my friends, and traveling, so I think it will be fine.”

Most employees would agree that the positions of the administrative assistants will be difficult to fill due to the jobs’ responsibilities and the retiring employees’ experience and knowledge of the college.

“They know this place inside and out,” said Jack Woltmann, retiring respiratory therapy professor. “You don’t lose people like that without having a bit of a bump. It’s going to take effort, and work, and time that ordinarily wouldn’t have been there.”

Mark Bergmooser, president of the MCCC Faculty Association, said employees in those divisions who relied on the administrative assistants will be affected greatly by the change.

“My concern pertaining to that position is that if someone comes in and changes everything, it can make the system go awry for a while,” he said.

The two other support staff employees who are retiring are Wayne Bezeau, the maintenance foreman, and Jerry Morse, the colleges’ graphic designer.

Morse said without the incentive plan he would not be retiring.

“If the offer hadn’t been made, I wouldn’t have even been thinking about it,” he said.

However, he said he discovered that it would be to his advantage to accept the state’s offer and will be retiring Sept. 1.

He said he hopes to get into some freelance and volunteer work when his 36-year service at MCCC ends.

Though the law played in Morse’s decision, others like Allen Thom, assistant professor of Physical Education, said the law was a very small part of his decision to retire.

Thom will be retiring July 1, along with faculty members John Miller, professor of Psychology and Bob Pettit, assistant professor of Biological Sciences.

Jim Devries, professor of History, accepted the retirement plan as well, but will be retiring Sept. 1.

Pettit said he thinks his retirement is an appropriate time for change.

“I don’t want to be here in a wheelchair or shuffling down the hall, barely able to stand up at the podium,” he said. “It’s something I had planned to do so my mind was already set in retirement mode.”

To the students and remaining faculty, Pettit said he wishes that they enjoy the life they are pursuing, have fun in their endeavors, keep a sense of humor, and plan their financial future.

The last faculty employee to retire will be Jack Woltmann. Woltmann was granted an extension and will not be technically retiring until Sept. 2011.

“Woltmann announced his early retirement but was granted an extension because of what the district felt was an emergency,” President Nixon explained. “It’s very difficult to find respiratory therapy faculty.”

Woltmann began the respiratory therapy program along with Bonnie Boggs in 1981.

“In our area, there have been two people that have taught this program for 30 years, so it has a very personal stamp on it,” Woltmann said.

He said he didn’t want to leave his co-worker so suddenly, so he applied for the extension in order to give the college more time to find a replacement.

Woltmann said some personal incentives of retirement for him are family, traveling, music, and his granddaughter, though he hopes to somehow continue in education.

“The journey is finite, and this has been a phase,” Woltmann said. “For so long work has taken a lion’s share and now it will be a realignment, a shifting.”

Nixon estimated that the college would begin advertising the position in January.

Three employees’ retirements had not been announced until the June Board of Trustees meeting.

These employees are Donald Hyatt, associate professor of Business and Management, Paul Schmidt, Registrar, and Cathy Schmeltzer, an adjunct faculty member.

The law, which took only four months to pass, stirred controversy with teachers’ unions.

Besides boosting monthly pensions for employees who retire by Sept. 1, the law also added a 3 percent wage deduction from all remaining school employees starting July 1 to go toward retiree health care.

It also put new teachers would enter a hybrid retirement plan.

The law created controversy as it was considered by the legislature. The final votes were 21-14 in the Senate and 56-45 in the House.

While some House and Senate members argued that the bill wasn’t fair to current and new education employees, others said the bill was needed to help with public school finances.

Gov. Granholm lobbied for the retirement law as it passed through the legislature and has proposed a similar bill for 7,000 state employees.

As for the future of MCCC, the rehiring process is currently under way, starting with the position of the executive assistant to the president.

The other administrative staff positions will be posted internally, Nixon said.

“It makes sense because these are individuals who have a lot of experience at the college already,” President Nixon said. “It’s fortunate to have qualified staff members that can be reassigned or will apply for the internally posted positions.”

Becky Leonhardt, the administrative assistant to the dean of Industrial Technologies, has accepted a transfer into Linda Spenoso’s former job, starting Aug. 1.

The transfer was announced on June 22 in an e-mail sent out by Molly McCutchan, the director Human Recourses.

“Moving Becky from the IT to the Business Division will support a smooth transition within the Instructional Area resulting from recent retirements among support staff,” the e-mail stated.

The college will now be internally rehiring for Leonhardt’s old position.

Three of the five assistants will be remaining at work until September, which will help the transition, Nixon said.

“The fact that they are retiring that first week of September will ease the burden because people like the executive assistant here in this office will be here this summer in the event that any training needs to be done,” he said.

As with Sue Wetzel, the college hopes to combine positions and decide if any are unnecessary, Nixon said.

“The lawmakers’ intent was also for us to look at any positions that we can eliminate, so we’re going to determine by December if we’ve been able to operate without a position somewhere,” Nixon said.

In the case of new faculty hires, Dr. Grace Yackee, vice president of Instruction, and a team of academic deans will host search committees.

Mark Bergmooser said he thinks the short time frame will result in an increased number of part-time faculty.

“It’s already the middle of June,” he said. “In two months we’ll be back on campus. I’ve never seen anything happen that fast, in ten weeks.”

One opportunity offered by the state is that retirees can return to teach part-time without affecting their pension. However, there were mixed views on this concept around campus.

“In my experience, faculty has relished the opportunity to be able to come back and teach a few courses,” President Nixon said. “So we hope some of them can still do that.”

Mark Bergmooser said he would be surprised if any faculty came back to work part-time.

“I don’t think you’ll see it,” he said. “I know a number of people who just love their job, love this place, but once you leave, you leave.”

However, retiree Jack Woltmann said that he does hope to continue teaching at MCCC after his retirement.

“In all probability, I’ll continue teaching here,” he said. “I won’t be able to teach for the first semester after I retire, but after that I’ll be able to teach some courses and I would like to do that because I enjoy it.”

Bergmooser said that he believes the college has been, and will probably remain, abuzz over the retirements.

“I think some people are happy, some are disappointed; it just depends on your perspective,” he said.

The college will be honoring the retirees at an event to be held on Aug. 25 when the back to school breakfast was originally planned.

Though the Board of Trustees had their last meeting of this year in June, Nixon recommended another meeting on the day of the celebration.

“We’d like to recommend a special meeting of the board of trustees the morning that we have the retirement reception so that the board can formally act on resolutions for each of the retirees,” Nixon said.

Retiring Professor Bob Pettit attended the meeting and was announced and acknowledged by the Board along with the 16 others retiring.

“My shoes are big,” Pettit said at the meeting, “and I hope they can be filled.”

Secretary Mary Kay Thayer said she thinks the college will be losing a lot of history and a lot of good people.

“I’m pleased that they are going to be enjoying retirement, but they are going to be missed.”

“Well said,” added William Bacarella, chairperson of the Board.

As for the next few semesters, retiree Carol Eshelman presented her opinion.

“I think there will be a lot of changes and it will take a while for things to get back to normal because they’re losing a lot of good people with a lot of years and a lot of knowledge.”

Jerry Morse summed up the impact of the law.

“A lot of experienced people are leaving,” he said, “and it’s going to mean that the folks that are left behind are going to have to figure out how to fill in the holes.”