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2003 Administration Response to Issues & Concerns

Administration’s Responses to
Issues, Concerns and Suggestions
Federation Forum
Friday, December 12, 2003, in Sanford

Submitted by the Presidents of each Association, compiled by Robert Lopp, Federation President, and James Cochran, Federation President Elect, and submitted to Drs. Ort and McKinnie and copied to Dr. Zublena.

About 11 pages of issues were submitted to the Federation from the six Associations and condensed into what became five major topical areas of interest to most all association members.

There are numerous other issues identified that were either only mentioned once, and/or are isolated to interest of only one particular association. These are listed at the end of this document, and while important, we prefer to spend valuable Forum time in Federation/Administration exchange on the higher ranked items which affect the larger membership.

Note: Some responses last year partially address this year’s issues as well, and are noted in the second section of this document with more detailed information about each of the top five concerns. It is probably noteworthy when items are repeatedly identified. Either/or: the item is still of concern and/or slightly different; any action taken did not suffice the membership or remedy the concern; the response was not what the membership wanted to hear; the administrative response was not suitably communicated to the inquiring association (‘s) membership.

Previous years and this 2003 document can also be found on the Federation’s webpage as an Acrobat, “.pdf” file.
Five areas were identified by 2 or 3 of the associations with each of the top two being identified by four of the six associations. They are ranked in such order.

OVERVIEW/SUMMARY of Five Main Areas of Concern:

  1. Bonus Leave and Bonus Pay
  2. Staffing – Handling Open Positions & Workload
  3. Increased cost of health insurance premiums to staff with families
  4. Employee Support. In the four areas of:
    A. Travel, B. Salaries, C. Computer Technology & D. Specialists
  5. Increasing Disproportionate County Support

DETAILS of the five main areas listed above follows. (Much is quoted from association member emails and discussions, so, the messenger is not responsible for all the language used.)

1. Bonus Leave and Bonus Pay

Questions and concerns basically pertaining to the county share and portion. Is the $550 received by Administration for each employee or only for the percentage of the salary funded by the University (e.g., “FTEs”)?

Response from Sheri Schwab: I do know that it is the General Assembly who gives the State employees raises, and then distributes the dollar amount to each agency for distribution. The University of North Carolina System is considered its own agency, just like DOT, DOE, etc. Therefore, the money goes to UNC-System, then to each University.

The General Assembly uses yearly employee count data that we submit to them via PMIS—Personnel Management Information System–to determine the number of people to whom a bonus would be given. Then they distribute it to each agency—Universities, DOT, Dept. of Education, etc. The GA would provide ONLY that amount that is calculated, and not extra.

Obviously in a year when a specific amount of money is given as a bonus–such as this year, $550–then it is purely a number count {based on FTE adjustments}, times $550. This also contributes to the question below about why we have to ask counties to “match” on percentages—The University only gets that amount as the FTE/number calculation shows for the “university” side. In years when it is a %-increase on base salary, the same principle would hold true.

What happens to any bonus funds/hours not distributed?

Response from Sheri Schwab: This goes along with the question above. I doubt there are “extra/non-distributed funds,” only because I am sure we have to submit something to GA to get the funds, and then they give us only that amount as calculated.

Why do “lock-in, send-in” have to request county share?

Response from Sheri Schwab: “Send-in/lock-in” counties, as well as “regular/lock-in” counties currently have to submit a response on matching the *bonuses* because of the way the current MOA/MOU is written. Specifically, the MOU/MOA section related to “lock-in” says that “bonuses” must be considered separately, outside of agreeing to being “locked-in” to other state increases, etc. So, b/c these have all been considered “bonuses” — “bonus leave” and one-time $550 bonus–we honored the current agreements.

Comments/Suggestions: Some staff prefer any salary increase vs. “bonus benefits”. The General Assembly needs to plan for disasters and not use state employees’ salaries and benefits to balance
Budgets (strongly convey this message to them). Utilize State Employees Association more??

Response from Sheri Schwab: I would encourage the Federation, and any individual and/or group of State employees, to let the GA know our concerns. Further, I would encourage them to come up with other incentives/bonuses. For example, in Florida, employees are allowed to “cash in” up to 16 hours of annual leave each December {as long as they are left with at least 40 hours after the 16-hour deduction}. This gives employees a little spending cash for the holidays if they desire. There are lots of ideas out there!!!

2. Staffing

A. Handling Open Positions
– Decision process, length of time a position remains open, which positions closed, etc.
This was somewhat answered last year (Issues # 3 and 4, under
Staffing Patterns/Program Delivery, pages 5 and 6 of 2002 Federation Issues & Opportunities Responses
But, please address again with any updates.
Suggestions: consult with/include programming staff in vacant position decisions, not just CEDs and DEDs.

Response from Joe Zublena: We have made great progress in meeting and achieving our reversions. This means we do not have to extend hiring delays to accumulate lapsed salaries. The process of refilling positions is standardized across the state through the COT. Basically, when there is a vacancy, the DED working with the CED and if needed District CED team decides if the position needs to be filled as is or altered based on future needs. They also need to see if refilling that particular position is the highest priority for the district or if a past closed position due to budget cuts is more critical.

Once this is decided the position can be advertised. Interviews can be held as soon as possible after advertisement. Offers can only be made however, after the payout for the person leaving the position is met. In the longest scenario, a retiree with 30 days leave and the 20 days bonus would take 50 days to pay out. A new person can be starting in the position therefore within 50 days of the retirement date. Under extenuating circumstances the process can be shorted with permission from the Associate Director.

B. PAATs basically performing a vacant agent’s duties without any additional compensation.
This was also somewhat answered last year (Issue # 2, under
Staffing Patterns/Program Delivery, page 5 of 2002 Federation Issues & Opportunities Responses
but, please offer any other response.

Response from Joe Zublena: Last year’s response in on target – no update needed.

C. Increased agent workload (subject matter and/or counties) due to vacated agent positions without additional compensation.

Response from Joe Zublena: Change in any organization is constant. As resources decline and staffing is adjusted to “right size” the budget, it leads to more dramatic change and thus more stress. Extension Administration’s philosophy on change, that is supported and practiced, is that each agent and specialist is a professional in his or her technical field. As such they gather data to determine the most significant educational needs in their county(ies) and then develop programs to meet those needs. It is incumbent on each professional to prioritize his or her work and time. When an employee’s areas of responsibilities are broadened, it is expected that they either decrease their time commitments in other areas or drop other programs to compensate. Administration believes in balance of work and family and does not expect nor want employees to “sacrifice” this balance. Instead, what is expected as mentioned above, is making the hard decision for what needs to be done and at what level. Determining priorities with advisory councils is a great way to support any changes made.

Policies on compensation at the university do not include changes in responsibilities.

3. Increased cost of health insurance premiums to staff with families.

Choice of county plans with state paying that portion (even cheaper for the state).
Employees should be a large enough group to negotiate better rates.
Suggestions: Shop around. Have a spouse only rate and then a family rate.

Response from Harvey Lineberry: Because Extension employees are considered to be employed by the State of North Carolina, they are eligible for the fully paid health benefit. $285.92 is paid by the State to the State Health Plan for each covered employee as of October 1, 2003. To be covered under any offered qualified benefit plan, a person has to be considered an “employee” of the coverage host. While some counties do include the extension employees in the same manner as other county employees, the state would not recognize them as employees and therefore they would not be eligible for any portion of a “match” of the $285.92 that the state now provides for the state health plan. Additionally, it is important to be clear with employees as to who their employer is, so that appropriate determinations can be made as to what policies do or do not apply to our Extension employees.

In dealing with Extension employees across the state, we try to be as consistent as possible. In some counties, we do have situations that are not consistent, but we need to understand that Extension has a responsibility to treat all employees of the organization as equally as possible. It is not fair to our colleagues across the state to have some benefits here and not others there. While we do have some of this currently, it is much less than in the past as a significant number of counties have moved to the “send-in” status.

Employees should be a large enough group to negotiate better rates.

Response from Harvey Lineberry: Agreed, it would seem that way. It is important to remember the reason that everyone wants to retire with the state is to maintain their health benefits at no cost into retirement. To that end, all state employees (including all retirees) are lumped together in this “pool” when seeking rates. Over and above this, we, like the remainder of the nation, continue to experience double digit health care and drug cost increases. Our changing coverage levels and deductibles reflect this quandary and is one reason that the university now offers a reasonable supplemental health care insurance to help cover the costs of some of the deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses.

Suggestions: Shop around. Have a spouse only rate and then a family rate.

Response is from the State Health Plan Frequently Asked Questions Website: Question: I am a State Employee and cover my spouse, but no children, under the Plan. Why is there no Employee/Spouse coverage? The Plan recently reviewed the possibility of creating an additional tier for employee and spouse. The outcome of this research was that the claims experience for the employee and spouse was substantially higher than the family rate. It appears that the employee and spouse have an average age approximately nine years greater than the average age of the adults in a family unit with children in the household. Hence, if the Plan created a fourth tier of “employee and spouse”, the rate would be higher than the family rate!

4. Employee Support. In four areas of (A. – D.):

A. Travel (identified based upon last couple years and before the 03-04 allocations, so, probably not as “much” of a concern, now, assuming no reversions later in the year? ?)
But, still a concern when compared to travel dollars received five years ago compared to increased coverage areas today.

Response from Joe Zublena: Extension Administration recognizes the need for greater travel support and is doing all it can to increase travel as our budget picture improves. Increases this year base allocations were 25% higher than last year.

B. Salaries
-Compression. Time frame of addressing compression due to increased starting salaries. Applauded addressing starting salary issue. Concerned that no short-term plan for dealing with compression exists and that a span of four or so years will result in reduction of morale and, thus, also a reduction of experienced agents. (Or, IS that the plan?)

Response from Joe Zublena: Administration continues its commitment to increasing our employees’ salaries. The specific issue the Federation asks however is for addressing agent compression due to increasing starting salaries. While bringing agents up to the minimum was done with closing positions, we cannot close enough positions to meet the compression needs (around $2 – 3 million). Therefore, additional funds must be sought. This will be done though the state change budget process during the next biennium.

The inference that administration would consider “reduction of morale and, thus, also a reduction of experienced agents (Or, IS that the plan?)” is not only incorrect, but quite frankly insulting.

It should be noted that Extension has asked for increased salary funding for our agents in each of the last two bienniums. However, due to the state fiscal situation, none of the university system requests were supported.

C. Computer Technology (training)
Lack of training for maximum new and different system utilization and for new hires, since Information Management Agents have been occupied with new system installation and troubleshooting. Will these positions continue? Concern with the amount of time county computer contacts spend troubleshooting. Computer Technology issue responses from last year can be found on the final four pages of the 2002 Federation Issues & Opportunities Responses
(Issues # 1 – 4, pages 10 – 13, of the 2002 Federation Issues &
Opportunities Responses.)
Suggestions: Keep IM agents and increase training now new systems installed.

Response from Rhonda Conlon: The Information Management (IM) agents provide On-going training. Each IM Agent maintains their own training schedule based on their assessment of needs within their 20-county region. They gather information on training needs through various methods including personal contacts and more formal survey processes.

We are nearing the end of a period of special technology projects including installation of the new systems and the internal network evaluation. These special projects have placed additional duties on the IM agents, EIT staff members and the computer contacts, but completion of both are necessary as we work to improve our technology infrastructure.

The installation of new systems was completed in August 2003. The IM agents were asked to provide training on the new systems immediately after each installation at each site.

The IM Agents have also assisted with a detailed survey of internal county networks. This has been completed by three of the five IM agents for their regions. It will be completed in the other two regions early in the coming year. This survey is important to document the status current network infrastructure so that we can provide quantifiable recommendations for improvements where they are needed. IM Agents were asked to visit the counties within their 20 counties to do this. These site visits take significant time, but they also give the IM agents an opportunity to talk with staff and assess future training needs. In some cases training was provided in conjunction with these visits.

The Information Management Agent positions are being reviewed within Extension Administration to ensure that their fit within the organizational structure and the design/roles and coordination of the positions best meets the technology needs within CES.

Extension Information Technology (EIT) is aware of and is grateful for the assistance of the county computer contacts.

EIT is minimally staffed to do remote management of the county servers, with one system administrator and two computing consultants, plus student help desk assistants. The three permanent staff members provide technology support to all of the Extension personnel in the 90 counties that have Linux servers, plus those on campus in 4-H and FCS. With the five Information Management agent positions committed to and occupied primarily with training, EIT must ask for troubleshooting assistance from someone on-site from time to time, and that puts a burden on the county computer contacts.

This is one of the reasons why improving the network infrastructure is a high priority now that the new systems are in place.

Improving the internal and Internet networks will reduce some of these demands, as it will allow better file transfer and remote management capabilities across the network. Here is an example of how problems with the existing networks have significantly contributed to the time spent troubleshooting: Last month because of a hardware failure it was necessary for EIT to upgrade the software that the Thinstar terminals use. That software sits on a server in Raleigh. When the Thinstars in the counties were rebooted, they detected the upgraded software and attempted to download it. In counties with more robust networks this went smoothly and took only minutes. In counties with 56K networks and/or other wiring problems, the process failed. In those cases EIT had to manually copy the updated files to those counties’ servers and then manually step through the tedious terminal upgrade process with the assistance of the computer contacts. The only other option was for the counties to send in the Thinstars to be upgraded. Neither of the solutions were desirable and both were time consuming.

Even with improved networks the computer contacts will be asked to assist from time to time. It is only possible to maintain the minimum staffing levels within EIT with the help of the computer contacts. The alternative is for CES to shift resources to increase the number of technical support personnel within EIT.

D. Specialists (responsiveness to calls, emails and notification when working in county; work relationships with subject matter consultants in counties)
Two associations/two program areas identified.
This issue addressed last year (Issue # 1, under Staffing
Patterns/Program Delivery, bottom of page 3 of the 2002 Federation Issues & Opportunities Responses
Add any other responses.
Suggestions: Include agents and field staff in specialists’ evaluations. More visibly reward and award specialists that best support agents and field staff.

Response from Joe Zublena: In meetings with CEDs across the state, this issue was raised to Dean Wynne and Drs. Ort and Zublena. There is a strong commitment from the Dean and Extension Administration to see improvement in this area. Some possible actions for improvement include the Dean talking to Department Heads of the importance for specialists to support agents, consideration of agent input into specialist evaluations (and vice versa) and special recognition for those specialists doing a “great job”.

5. Increasing Disproportionate County Support

A. Counties required to assume more of the traditional “state share” cost of:
-Bonus Leave and Pay
-Publication printing expense (e.g., off websites)

Response from Joe Zublena: Counties are not required to assume more of the traditional state support. However, many counties recognize the value of what our agents do locally and that the current level of support can only achieve so much. As such, many supplement travel and operations to increase the county impacts. This is wonderful recognition of the local staffs efforts and programs and their ability to make a real differences at reasonable costs.

Response from Joe Zublena: Bonus leave and pay under the current MOU is optional for all counties.

Response from Joe Zublena: This issue was just discussed at the December Extension Council meeting. Discussions included increased costs of reproducing on- line materials that are not available in print; to time spent on trying to find where the information resides in the university/CES on-line databases. There will be efforts to determine if there are better ways to archive and retrieve facts sheets/data from on-line and to determine which on-line information is in high enough demand that it would be more cost efficient to print them at a central site.

B. “Privatization” or “out-sourcing” of Extension as an alternative looked at in some counties.

C. Concern over Standardization of MOAs / MOUs
-Resulting in some counties loosing out on already well functioning relationships.

Response from Joe Zublena: This remains a topic of considerable discussion in the County Partnership Group that is working on the MOU. The question is how to achieve flexibility yet have some defined structure so there are not 101 variations that become impossible to keep up with over time as personnel change occur.

End of details on the five major areas of concern.


Other issues and concerns identified either mentioned only once and/or pertaining to just one association’s interest. The remaining are in no particular order following number 6.

6. EMAPS too subjective; inconsistency across state and districts; too much time spent preparing for reviews (better spent serving clients). (#6 only identified by one association, but was the number one concern by that association, which found it difficult to believe the other associations did not identify as an issue this year).

Response from Joe Zublena: Deborah Crandall and Harvey Fouts have leadership for EMAPS for County Operations. While the tool is not perfect, it is far more objective than any previous appraisal systems used. County Operations is committed to improving agent appraisals, as such, constructive recommendations should be sent to Harvey or Deborah and will be considered.

7. Horn of Plenty. Is it worth it? Are we getting enough out of the effort? Suggestion: If it is highly prized by County Commissioners Association, then use some leverage to gain access and exposure to other times on their meeting agenda to present, inform and discuss.

Response from Joe Zublena: Dr. Zublena and Donna Warren recently met with Penny Cummings from the Commissioner Association and discussed several issues related to the HOP. There was agreement that not all commissioners understand the HOP is a “thank you” from Extension. There was confusion that the fee paid for everything and Cooperative Extension were just “waiters”, and most importantly that our intent for doing the HOP may not be being met.

It was also strongly stated that while many commissioners may not know, the Commissioners Association strongly valued Extension, its role and intent in the HOP.

It was agreed that we would co-develop a survey for commissioners to help us gather a better database for making some future decisions. The intent at this time is for our CED and or agents to interview commissioners for the survey. This would provide an opportunity to market why we do HOP if they don’t know and to strengthen local interactions.

8. Out of date publications. Need a review schedule.

Response from Mike Gray: The decision to write, reprint, revise, or replace publications is made by the subject-matter specialist and his or her administrator. Communication Services is not involved in this discussion. A county person can contact a subject-matter specialist or administrator and request that a particular publication be written, reprinted, revised, or discontinued or can contact an administrator (Roger Crickenberger, AG; Karen Debord, FCS; Ed Maxa, 4-H; Steve Leath, TB) about setting up a review schedule for existing publications.

9. Other ways of recognition since no pay raises.

Response from Joe Zublena: We’re wide open for cost neutral ideas!!

10. Advancement opportunities for subject matter agents.

Response from Joe Zublena: There are some opportunities for greater specialization for agents if they apply for area specialized agent positions. (granted, there aren’t many of these positions). Most agents, however, are not willing to move to other areas of the state when positions open. There are also opportunities for agents to seek advanced degrees that would open opportunities at many universities.

If the Federation has ideas on how to improve this, we’re open.

11. What is / determines a program associate vs. a program assistant? Is it a promotion? Is it in writing?

Response from Thearon McKinney: It is felt the primary differences between Program Assistants and Program Associates is a combination of the complexity of task, amount of supervision needed, and time in grade. A line decision to move a Program Assistant to a Program Associate would be a promotion. Best management practice would assume every Program Assistant and Program Associate would have a written job description. However, I know of no written description of the promotion process.

12. Specialist leaving the Vernon James center for Raleigh campus after a few years. Enticement to stay? (e.g., aquaculture, small fruit, potato breeding, plant pathology and horticulture (cover crops and organic).

Response from Roger Crickenberger: The college leadership team is fully aware of the challenges of retaining tenure track faculty at the James Center. We have met with stakeholders in the area. From that meeting came a strategic plan developed by a process led by the faculty there. Then just last week, the directors met with heads who have programs at the James Center. Among their discussion topics was the issue of how we staff the center and retain faculty once we successfully recruit them for that location. Hopefully, over time, we can adjust our policies regarding recruiting and supervision of faculty at the center so that we put faculty there who can make a long term commitments to working and living in eastern North Carolina. We feel with strong departmental ties and support, needs based relevant programs, and interdepartmental collaboration that faculty can be successful in tenure track positions at our outlying centers. As we recruit for positions that we fill in the future, we need to be sure we deal effectively with how new faculty will adapt to living in eastern North Carolina.

13. Different interpretations of professional scheduling.

Response from Joe Zublena: District Directors are aware of the policy and how it should be interpreted. If there are problems related to this issue, those with the concerns need to be involved so it can be improved. If there are concerns that the DED is part of the issue, the Associate Director and Director of County Operations should be informed.

14. No system in place, such as a 501c, to place grant monies vs. placing money with the University or county.

Response from Joe Zublena: 501 3c Accounts fall outside the university protection and fiscal oversight. While grants are becoming increasingly important, proper management, accountability and liability protection must be considered. Each PI considering alternative management systems must consider the “what ifs” and potential personal liabilities.

15. FCS programs losing value as evidenced by the disproportionate loss of FCS positions and forced transition to other program areas.

Response from Joe Zublena: FCS, Ag, NR and CRD have all lost significant numbers of positions. If you look at just position numbers related to the large program areas, FCS is about the same as Ag. If you look at the percent of positions lost, CRD has had the greatest percentage lost.

FCS does however have some unique challenges in many counties. Unlike many of the agriculture, horticultural, forestry and livestock programs that are often viewed as aides to “businesses” that directly affect the local economy, FCS is often viewed by local governments with other local social programs, with important but less tangible impacts. Questions of duplication of service are often cited especially in comparison to local DSS and DHS services and programs. It is incumbent on all of Extension to clearly articulate the uniqueness and impacts of our programs so local leaders and decision makers understand and appreciate the value of FCS as well as our other programs.

16. How will the concept of Engagement change or impact what is done at the local level?

Response from Jon Ort: The Extension and Engagement initiative at NC State will allow our field faculty and staff to choose from a broader menu of disciplines and technologies to address new programs at the county level. As more faculty representing scientific technologies that exceed the discipline boundaries of our College become involved with the Extension and Engagement movement, field faculty will be able to address a broader array of issues at the county level.

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