The University of Idaho announced Friday it is offering separation incentives to employees who may be considering leaving the university or retiring early.

UI Communications Director Jodi Walker said about 700 employees are eligible for one or both measures, which will help the university deal with cuts related to a shortfall expected to balloon to $22 million by fiscal year 2022.

To deal with the deficit, UI President Scott Green said in a memo late last month that the school will seek an additional $8 million in budget cuts over the next two years in addition to $14 million in budget reductions UI imposed earlier this year, which will become permanent.

Walker said it will remain to be seen how big of a bite voluntary separation incentives will take out of the deficit.

“It just sort of depends on the makeup of it, I mean, if somebody chooses to take us up on this and they’re making six figures, that’s going to look entirely different than if somebody takes us up on this and they’re making $42,000,” she said. “Every little bit helps. At this point we have to look at everything and provide options for everything and take everything we can come up with.”

According to Friday’s memo, there are essentially two incentive options offered, individually known as voluntary separation and optional retirement.

Those who qualify for voluntary separation must have worked for UI for at least 10 years and, if approved, will receive 33 percent of their 2019-2020 salary.

The optional retirement program is being extended to employees older than the age of 55 who have spent 20 years with the university and who do not already have an approved retirement plan. Those approved for retirement incentives will receive 20 percent of their 2019-’20 salaries annually for the next five years.

Separation payments for both programs would begin Oct. 1, 2020 — the start of the 2021 fiscal year. The memo, and Walker, stressed the programs are optional.

“It’s a very personal decision for people to decide what they want to do and these are people who put in 10 to 20 years here and they’re valuable, they have a lot of knowledge,” Walker said. “We’re certainly not looking to push anyone out the door, that isn’t the objective at all. It’s a very personal decision that people have to make about what they want to do with their careers.”

In addition to the $22 million deficit, Idaho Gov. Brad Little has asked all state agencies to reduce their budgets for the current fiscal year by 1 percent and to reduce budgets for the coming fiscal year by another 2 percent.

Green said the initial reduction will amount to a roughly $1 million, one-time reduction. Walker said UI asked eligible employees to consider taking as many as five days of voluntary furlough in direct response to the governor’s instructions.

Steven Peterson, an associate clinical professor of business and economics, said he knows of at least one person in his department who is considering separation incentives and he himself is open to taking furlough to help the university get back on its feet.

With the College of Business and Economics’ already fairly lean budget, Peterson said long-term employees are the next logical place to look for savings and incentives are far preferable to layoffs.

“Because of prior budget cuts, there’s no room left to cut — you’d need to cut salaries, furloughs or lay people off,” Peterson said. “From my perspective, (incentivised separation and retirement) would be the ideal solution, given the difficulties we’re in. The second tier would be furloughs of some sort and the last resort is to lay people off.”

UI leaders have said in the past that numerous other cost-cutting solutions are being considered, including layoffs and salary reductions, as well as the elimination of academic programs and outsourcing certain in-house facilities services.

Those who have additional strategies to generate revenue and achieve cost savings can submit their ideas directly to the office of the president at www.uidaho.edu/president by Jan. 1.

Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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