State law, contractual prerogative use examined

Benefits, down-sides of using banked load inspected

By Cody McFarland, Associate Editor

Sitting at his office desk cluttered with paperwork at the north end of the Computer Technology Center, an exasperated man pinches the bridge of his nose, shuts his eyes and lets out a heavy sigh.

“I can’t remember,” he says half-heartedly. “Or maybe I just don’t want to.”

Robert Chan, computer information systems department chairperson, blinks hard and opens his eyes. His gaze suggests he’s looking away some great distance. His eyes glass over. He proceeds.

“Three classes were affected. One had to be canceled; the other two were left needing a professor.

“We found out late in fall, around December, that he would no longer be with us. We needed to find a suitable replacement to take on the curriculum and teach it the same way.

“We were left scrambling one week before winter break to try and find a replacement for the spring semester.”

This was the inadvertent consequence of Thomas Murphy, high performance computing, computer information systems and computer sciences professor, electing to use his banked load prior to his retirement.

Murphy is no longer on campus, but due to banked load is receiving his full-timer’s salary in absence.

Chan said his only issue with the way things played out was the lack of foresight and communication.

“I have no qualms with banking load — I’ve got banked load,” he said. “The planning, or lack thereof, when it came to Murphy using it, how it all came about, I believe was faulty. It was not well executed.”

What is banked load?

Of the many rights outlined in the United Faculty Agreement, the contract for full-time faculty in the district, one is the right to bank overload contract hours for use at a later date.

When any full-time faculty member works more than a full load within his or her department, the percentage of load credit above 100 percent can either be paid to that faculty member at an overtime rate or be banked.

UF Vice President Jeffrey Michels said this provision is beneficial for full-timers in that it allows flexibility of assignment. Faculty can use banked load to supplement an underloaded schedule and receive full salary, in case a class  is canceled, or to augment the 70 percent salary paid during a full year sabbatical leave, among other benefits.

“It’s also great if you’re planning to have a baby,” he said.

Notification of intent to bank must be given at the time the class schedule is submitted, and such information is reviewed and adjusted by the division dean.

As an example, a 3-unit lecture course requiring 54 classroom instruction hours is equivalent to 20 percent of a professor’s overall percentage total for classes being taught. If an instructor teaches five lecture classes worth 20 percent each, he or she meets the 100 percent load goal for that given semester.

As of the 2012-13 academic year, the maximum amount of accumulated banked load allowed is three semesters.

Faculty may not reduce load by a full semester more than twice in any three-year period, including semesters prior to retirement. 

Faculty with more than two semesters of banked load as of the end of the 2010-11 academic year are not restricted by the limit on using no more than two full semesters of banked load prior to retirement because, before this time, a cap was not included in the language of the Contra Costa Community College District’s full-timer contract.

Executive Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services Eugene Huff said, “We realized it was oversight when we negotiated the first time.”

There is a financial incentive at the district level to allow load banking because it defers payment for credit hours worked until a later date; however, doing so also increases the district’s load bank liability, Huff said.

The unfunded liability at the end of the 2013-14 year is at a seven-year low, he said.

When asked how banked load might be of benefit to students, Dr. Michels said, “Faculty morale is intimately connected to teaching — a good place to work is a good place to learn.”

Departmental detriment

The many faculty perspectives on load banking across Contra Costa College have highlighted a number of its perks, as well as its disadvantages.

The ability to bank load is beneficial to faculty, but may prove detrimental to departments, as in the recent case of the computer science department.   

Because Murphy is out on banked load prior to his retirement, he remains on the department’s books as one of its full-time faculty members, retaining his full range of benefits, his salary and regular pension contributions until the day his load bank expires and he retires.

Unfortunately for the department, they are unable to replace Murphy’s full-time position until after his retirement, leaving his once on-campus duties in the hands of his peers and the adjunct hired to fill the gaps.

“We’re in this gray area right now,” computer information systems professor Randy Watkins said. “The replacement we hired may only be around for a semester.”

Since Diablo Valley College computer science professor Faramarz Mortezaie took over Murphy’s two scheduled spring classes for the sake of this year’s computer science student cohort, his split assignment between DVC and CCC has him overloaded.

“If we brought him back he would deserve a bonus,” Watkins said. “I can’t see us getting Faramarz for (teaching) three (sections) in fall (like Murphy did). That is what throws us off.”

Murphy, in an email written from Paris, France, said, “I’d love to see a new (full-timer) hired — it would be what’s best for students. I want to see them succeed. I’m also on the hook to help them succeed.”

Vice President Tammeil Gilkerson said, “A full-time professor using banked load is still responsible to do all of the things full-time faculty have to do. But that piece of the job — the face-to-face teaching — is not required.”

While this is the case for full-timers using banked load in general, who still uphold such responsibilities as assisting and participating in departmental meetings and hiring, it is not the case for those out on banked load prior to retirement, Senior Dean of Instruction Donna Floyd said.

Dr. Floyd, acting as interim Natural Sciences and Applied Sciences Division dean, a role presiding over the computer science department, said that hiring a replacement was a joint duty of both Murphy and Chan.

Gilkerson said, “We do our best to hire adjuncts that are thoughtful and care about the program.”

However, adjuncts do not have the same reach as full-time faculty do, being spread across different campuses, not receiving benefits and not having office hours to meet with students one-on-one.

Notification of intent to bank must be given at the time the class schedule is submitted, during which time the department wanted desperately to offer the classes Murphy’s name was a placeholder for, but had less than one month to figure things out.

Watkins said, “He (Murphy) is still the program lead: He’s still the decision-maker and has to give the OK to our decisions.

“We still communicate through email, though he’s not present at meetings. We can only work with him when he responds.”

Computer science faculty are not the only ones affected by Murphy’s use of banked load.

“The clubs (I advise) are languishing,” he said. “It is hard with me not being there daily.”

Murphy said he has four semesters worth of load in the bank at this point and did not specify a set retirement date.

Used as expeditiously as possible, he might exhaust his banked load within two years.

However, a nuanced approach combining benefits of the full-time faculty contract and California state law presents potential to extend that duration — and the size of one’s pension. 

Opportune and advantageous

In California there exists a state law known as the Willie Brown Act and it pertains to reduced workload leaves.

Under the law it is required that a teacher on reduced workload work no less than 50 percent of a full-time load, with a maximum duration of 10 years.

During this time, the employee’s and college district’s contributions to the cost of medical and dental premiums are calculated as if the employee is working full time.

Though it is not required that community college districts offer this program, the district does.

“Because we offer the program, if a person applies we have to approve them,” Huff said. “It is the way the law is written.”

To be eligible for the program, one must be age 55 or older, have at least 10 years of service credit and have been employed to perform creditable service on a full-time basis for five years immediately preceding the program.

One’s pension is determined by service credit multiplied by age factor and by final compensation to equal the member-only benefit.

“The way retirement benefits are calculated is just a math equation,” Watkins said. “You can play that equation quite well to maximize your time.”

For example, if in early years of full-time employment one teaches overload at the lowest scheduled salary rate and elects to bank that load, that load can remain banked while the employee progresses through the tenure track and ranks up on the salary schedule. By the time the employee uses the banked load, its value, reflective of the most recently scheduled salary rate, has increased, despite being earned at a lower rate.

In addition, another strategy available to those with load in the bank is to go on reduced workload — down to 50 percent of a full credit load — prior to retiring, in effect enabling faculty to stretch a single semester’s banked load credit into one year’s worth. Though such faculty’s pay would be scaled down to reflect their actual service, in this example 50 percent, their fringe benefits and employer contributions to STRS remain at 100 percent.

“It would increase your pension,” Michels said. “The pension calculation is based on years of service. The advantage is that you would continue to earn full-time STRS service credit.”

Those grandfathered in with more than three semesters of load by the 2010-11 academic year, before the cap was negotiated, have the most lucrative prospects.

Huff said, “Faculty have certain rights and some faculty have maximized their use of those rights and benefits.

“Nothing can be done under the current legal and contractual conditions (to preclude such maximizations of rights).”

The points of detraction are that financial compensation during this period is reflective of earned service credit rather than full-time credit, and that one pushes back receiving his or her retirement package, Michels said.

Computer science outlook

These days, Murphy spends his free time playing computer games and traveling with his wife in his pre-retirement. It was, in fact, his wife’s own retirement that prompted him to follow suit.

He feels as though he has served students’ needs well, educating them to the best of his ability, and contributed immensely to the growth of computer science at CCC.

It is strange for him to be away, he said, but it was a decision he felt was necessary for his and his family’s sake.

“I didn’t anticipate that this would be how (banking load) benefitted me, I just had a hunch that, if I didn’t need the money then, I should save it until a time that I do,” he said.

Though Murphy remains in communication with his department and highly approves of his replacement, Mortezaie, he expressed concerns about the department’s ability to secure an adjunct for any length of time greater than one year and its ability to perpetually serve students.

While Murphy is screening all documents and decisions coming out of the department, his approach is too hands-off for his peers.

Chan said, “His choice to use banked load in the manner that he did almost, if not may well have, doomed the computer sciences major.”

Chan described the computer science major as “in flux” and said that the department is looking into developing a common curriculum through a higher education consortium.

He said the state’s push for degrees in specialized computer fields — fields Murphy knows well — reminds him of what an asset Murphy was to the department while still on campus. “This is where his expertise is missed.”