Future Cyclone

Student photo at the ISU wall.

Jarod Labrador, an incoming freshman from Palos Hills, Illinois, and his mother, Alicia Ruiz, were on campus Tuesday for orientation. Labrador plans to major in computer engineering. He is one of an estimated 6,000 new Cyclones expected to participate in orientation activities this month. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Changes to merit employment system take effect July 1

Changes signed into Iowa law in February that govern collective bargaining rights for the state's public employees are scheduled to take effect next month. Absent a resolution to a legal challenge brought by the union covering Iowa State's roughly 1,300 merit employees (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61), the changes begin on July 1 and will apply to all merit employees (AFSCME-covered and supervisory/confidential).

This spring, a leadership team from university human resources (UHR) has been working with its peers at the universities of Iowa and Northern Iowa and state Board of Regents staff to prepare for the changes.

Got questions?


Hotline: 294-7775

"We value our employees, we want to take care of them and provide them and their supervisors with the information they need to adapt to the changes," said manager of employee and labor relations Andrea Little. "We view this as an opportunity to create consistent processes and educate supervisors."

She noted that university policies and procedures and the Regent Merit System Rules, which previously could be superseded by language in any two-year collective bargaining agreement between the state and AFSCME, will have a stronger influence on merit employment. For example, like their professional and scientific colleagues, merit employees will be eligible for pay for exceptional performance and recognitions that include a cash award.

All merit staff -- supervisory/confidential and AFSCME-covered positions -- will see some changes as the two groups' processes are aligned.

Key changes

Health insurance is an important employee benefit that the new law removed from the bargaining process. Faced with taking their chances on an uncertain state of Iowa plan in future years or migrating merit employees to existing university plans, the regent universities opted for the latter. Current merit employees will be phased in to the ISU Plan beginning Jan. 1.

Other key changes include:

  • Merit employee seniority lists no longer will be used. When merit employees apply for an open position, they will compete for it, and the hiring unit will look for the best fit for its needs rather than rely on the current seniority process. Merit employees won't be limited on the frequency of position changes.
  • Performance evaluations will be a factor weighed in identifying which employees may be impacted in a university layoff.
  • Supervisors will need to coordinate the performance evaluations of their merit employees around each employee's anniversary date at Iowa State.
  • As is the case now, merit employees will receive straight pay for holidays they don't work and time and one-half pay for the hours they do work. In either case, holiday hours are not included in the overtime calculation. Neither will vacation, sick or comp time hours count toward hours worked for overtime calculations.

The overtime eligibility calculation follows the language in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Little noted that all nonexempt employees at Iowa State will be treated consistently on this.

What doesn't change

Many policies and procedures will remain the same on July 1, with no impact on merit positions. For example, merit staff won't see changes in their vacation and sick leave accrual. The cap for their comp time bank remains at 160 hours, with a June 30 annual payout date. Policies covering reclassifications and promotion/demotion pay won't change. Neither will the rules related to restricted work duties following a job-related injury.

Annual July 1 pay increases will continue to be negotiated between AFSCME and the state of Iowa. The salary increase (a percentage) associated with a merit employee's annual anniversary date will be set by the regents as part of the board's annual salary policy discussion.

More info to come

Little said UHR is planning a series of topic-specific emails to merit employees -- and the approximately 400 employees who supervise them -- during June to provide more detail prior to July 1. Information also will be shared on a UHR website. During the last two weeks of the month, training will be provided for supervisors of merit employees as well as staff with time-entry duties. She also encouraged merit staff to ask questions, either to their unit's HR liaison or a phone hotline set up for this topic, 294-7775.

Faculty, P&S staff will see targeted salary increases on July 1

Midyear cuts in state funding, followed by further reductions for the budget year that begins on July 1 (FY18) have created a tight environment for employee salary increases this summer. In a May 31 salary policy memo to the four division leaders, interim President Ben Allen said 0.25 percent -- approximately $970,000 -- will be available university-wide in FY18 to award salary increases to faculty, professional and scientific staff and contract staff. He noted that this amount will support only "narrowly targeted" increases for exceptional performers or to address equity or market issues. All increases must be submitted to the appropriate senior vice president for approval.

"As a result of limited resources and uncertain state support, we will not mandate salary increases for FY18," Allen wrote.

The salary adjustment policy applies to all funding sources, including employees paid by external grants. It may be adjusted for Ames Laboratory employees to match federal salary adjustment guidelines.

Documents related to annual salary adjustments, including frequently asked questions and the form needed to request a salary increase this year, are on the university human resources (UHR) website.

Why so tight?

Iowa State's general university appropriation from the state -- $184.4 million last July -- will shrink to $172.8 million on July 1. Allen said that $11.52 million cut will be spread across the divisions in proportion to their general fund budgets this year. In addition, the Nutrient Research Center, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and the Small Business Development Centers lost direct state appropriations totaling $1.82 million. Even with a tuition increase approved in December by the state Board of Regents, a proposed second increase on the board's agenda next week and an incremental increase in costs recovered from sponsored research, the projected net revenue increase in Iowa State's FY18 operating budget is $14.3 million. Allen said those dollars will be allocated to student-centered priorities and to mandatory cost increases outlined below.

FY18 operating budget: Use of incremental revenue

Student financial aid (merit- and need-based)

$6.8 million

Strategic priorities related to enrollment growth

$2.9 million

Investments in five academic programs* receiving first-time differential tuition

$1.1 million

Investments in international student programming (second year of differential tuition)

$0.90 million

Salary increases for merit employees per AFSCME contract

$1.1 million

Targeted salary increases for faculty, P&S staff, contract employees

$0.97 million

Mandatory increases related to contracts, inflation, compliance

$0.75 million

Costs to bring online two new buildings**

$1.5 million


$16.0 million

Operating expenses for centers (2) removed from state support

-$1.7 million


$14.3 million

*Animal science, biology, computer science, industrial design and natural resource ecology and management
**Bessey addition, Advanced Teaching and Research Building

Merit salary increases

In the first year of a two-year contract between the state and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, ISU merit employees will receive a 1 percent salary increase on July 1. As part of changes to the Iowa Code made this winter by the 2017 Legislature, step increases associated with ISU merit employees' anniversary dates are to be set now by the state Board of Regents. The proposal included in the board's June agenda calls for no step increases during FY18.

ISU Plan premiums holding steady

UHR director of benefits Ed Holland confirmed this week that the health and dental plans and employee premiums in place now for the ISU Plan will not change for the 2018 plan year, which begins on Jan. 1. This will mark the fifth year at the same premium levels. On Jan. 1, the ISU Plan will become the benefits option for all university employees.


Council recommends 3 percent salary increases

Interim President Ben Allen spoke at the May 25 Professional and Scientific Council meeting, outlining his observations and goals.

"I know that this is a time of uncertainty for almost everyone on campus for a number of reasons. One of my goals is to meet with people across campus, to have conversations about what are the concerns and what are the issues," Allen said.

"My major task is to keep the momentum that has been created by this campus under Dr. Leath's leadership and move that forward during this transition so the next president will be successful, but also handle issues that might be here in the interim so that person can more likely be successful."

Allen said a state Board of Regents task force will work with the three schools on future tuition proposals.

"That task force will be working with the three regent universities, so we have an opportunity to have input to inform their decisions, to learn from their decisions, and to be a part of that," he said. "I think the goal would be to have a longer-term view on how we set tuition -- one that is more transparent to the public, one that is more predictable to the students and that is more rational to everybody. Because pricing tuition is a mix of politics, economics and luck."

Compensation recommendation

Council members voted in favor of the council's annual compensation recommendation, introduced by the compensation and benefits committee. The recommendation encourages:

  • Competitive compensation
  • Performance-based compensation
  • Emphasis on employee wellbeing in the workplace

The recommendation asks for a minimum 3 percent increase for P&S employees to "provide meaningful and appropriate salary increases for high performance to attract and retain that high-quality staff."

Shared governance

The council also approved a motion to adopt its definition of shared governance and ask administration to establish a central shared governance website. The website would include the definition and a list of university groups that participate in shared governance. The motion was developed by a 2016-17 council ad hoc committee tasked with studying shared governance at ISU.

Other business

  • Nominations are being accepted for two council vice president roles: university community relations and university planning and budget. Elections for the executive committee positions will be held at the July 6 meeting.
  • Council members approved language that charge the policies and procedures committee with regular review of the council's rules and bylaws.

Merit employees will be phased in to ISU (benefits) Plan

Employee benefits are one item impacted by changes to the Iowa Code governing collective bargaining that were approved by the 2017 Iowa Legislature and signed by former Gov. Terry Branstad in February.

More information

An overview of changes to the ISU merit system due to Iowa Code modifications

Current merit employees, as well as those hired through June 30, will remain on the state health and dental plans offered under the current collective bargaining agreement between the State of Iowa and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 61 through this calendar year. On Jan. 1, 2018, merit employees will be offered the ISU Plan health and dental benefits, the same plans with the same employee premium contributions used by faculty, professional and scientific staff and supervisory/confidential staff. Coverage selections will be made during the annual benefits open enrollment period in November.

New merit employees who start at Iowa State on July 1 or later will be offered ISU Plan medical and dental benefits.

One plan for all

Ed Holland, director of benefits in university human resources (UHR), said he believes the change brings a higher level of fairness to the benefit offerings provided to ISU employees. It also is a boost to efficiency.

“We believe the decision by the university to provide the same benefits to all of our employees by Jan. 1 will allow us to streamline and improve our benefit services and tools, as well as strengthen our communications to campus about the benefits ISU offers," he said.

Holland also noted that the decision allows UHR to inform the entire campus that the plans and employee costs in place right now under the ISU Plan will be the same for all employees starting Jan. 1 for the 2018 plan year. There will be no plan design changes or plan increases on Jan. 1, he said.

What's next

Holland said the benefits team will schedule meetings on campus starting in mid-June to explain the ISU Plan benefits in greater detail to merit employees. The meetings will focus on the choices merit employees will have and the value of these choices, as well as differences between the ISU Plan and the current plans through the state of Iowa. In the meantime, more information is available online.

Compost facility is the answer to varied campus needs

Grounds crews distributing compost on campus.

Campus services workers Adam Frits, left, and Christian Pitt apply composted soil to a work site at the Schilletter-University Village community center. The soil is produced at ISU's composting facility. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

When Iowa State students threw away banana peels, french fries or other food waste in campus dining halls over the last six months, they probably didn't expect them to play an important role in the south end zone project at Jack Trice Stadium.

But that's just what happened, after a circuitous journey that included a stop at the university compost facility, adjacent to the ISU dairy farm south of Ames.

More info

To learn more about composting
at ISU, contact Steve Jonas,

Since 2008, all food waste from ISU Dining — both discarded food and leftover menu items, some 466 tons in 2016 alone — has been made into compost. But the amount of food service waste in the composting stream pales in comparison to the primary source of raw material: cow manure.

New dairy farm, new compost facility

"The composting operation opened in 2008, and was built in conjunction with the ISU dairy farm," said Mark Honeyman, associate dean for operations for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "We needed a way to handle and use all the solid manure from the dairy cows. We knew we needed to be good stewards."

The facility, operated by the college, composted 8,424 tons of raw material in 2016. About 77 percent (6,475 tons) of total inputs came from the dairy farm, most of that in the form of solid and semi-solid manure and bedding. The rest comes from:

  • Campus yard waste (8 percent)
  • Manure from other ISU animal science teaching or research farms (5 percent)
  • ISU Dining food waste (4 percent)
  • Miscellaneous organic sources (5 percent)

All the material is hauled to a rural, windswept composting site. It features seven hoop barns, each measuring 80-feet-by-140-feet, and a smaller hoop barn. Startup of the composting operation was partially funded by a combined grant/loan of $246,000 from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Solid Waste Alternatives Program. Now it runs on fees charged to university units for material coming in and compost going out.

Deliveries are weighed as they come in and unloaded into the center hoop barn. From there, the raw material is put into windrows under the other six hoop barns. It's turned using a special tractor-powered machine once or twice a week for 12 to 16 weeks as the transformation to compost occurs.

Honeyman emphasized that the entire operation is ISU-contained. All the input comes from ISU sources, and all the outputs are used around campus. The facility doesn't accept compost inputs from non-ISU sources, nor does it wholesale or retail the output.

On-the-job training

Steve Jonas at the compost facility.

Steve Jonas

A big part of the success of the operation, Honeyman said, is having a manager like Steve Jonas at the helm.

Jonas, a Remsen native and 2001 Iowa State graduate (horticulture), worked for a landscaper after graduation. He initially interviewed with Honeyman for another job at Iowa State.

"I didn't get that job, but Dr. Honeyman asked me what I thought about composting," Jonas recalled. "I said, 'I don't know a lot about composting' and he said, 'That's okay, neither do we.'"  

In some ways, the composting operation started off as a production-scale research project. Jonas, Honeyman and everyone connected with the effort learned by trial and error.

"Snow," Jonas said, shaking his head, "that's the worst. In the winter, the process takes longer. Snow really slows you down. If it's 20 below zero, I'll just leave the windrows sit. Maybe the top six or eight inches freeze, but the inside will be nice and hot, so when the weather starts to warm up, I can take my turner and break through that frozen crust, and the steam just pours out."

Another lesson was that dairy manure keeps coming -- on average, 17 tons every day in 2016 -- so minimizing slowdowns in production was crucial.

Helping nature's cleanup crew

Composting is the process of letting naturally occurring microbes break down organic waste to a form that becomes a nutrient-rich plant growth medium. When Jonas puts the raw material in windrows, the microbes start to work in the center of the rows. Microbes breaking down organic material generate heat. The desired composting temperature is about 140 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. The compost operator can impact the heat by turning it more or fewer times. Turning it more often provides more oxygen to feed the heat source.

The compost blend targets are a carbon-nitrogen ratio of 25 to 30:1 and moisture around 50 percent. The hoop barns provide maximum access for heavy machinery while keeping rain off the compost to control moisture.

The process starts when Jonas -- using a tractor, wagon and loader -- creates windrows 10 to 12 feet high. He then runs through it with a "turner," which uses tines to slowly and gently turn over the compost as it moves down the windrows. About four months later, the composting process has cut the height of the windrows in half, and compost is ready to be hauled out.

Despite the tons of manure present, there is little odor. Jonas makes a special effort to minimize it.

"It mostly has to do with the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio and making sure the compost has enough, but not too much, moisture for the microbes," Jonas said. "Once those conditions are where they need to be, the microbes do their job and it should smell only for a little bit when I turn the windrows."

In the beginning, Jonas said he tried to segregate all the raw materials as it arrived, but because of limited space and the growing volume of materials coming in, he now only separates wet materials and dry materials.

Jonas also has gained enough experience to tell if the mixture of carbon and nitrogen is right by the way it looks and how much steam rises when he turns it. He still takes the temperature of the windrows weekly, but has learned how to use visual indicators as well.

Once the compost looks ready to go, it's sent through a screener to take out any solids, like rocks -- or, every once in a while, an ISU Dining fork. Most of the compost goes out as amended soil, which is a 50-50 mixture of compost and soil. The soil is stockpiled in a hoop barn at the facility to keep it dry until it's needed for a campus project.

Sharing best practices

In eight years, the operation has turned out about 65,000 tons of compost, the majority of it used for large university landscaping projects such as the one that enclosed the south end of Jack Trice Stadium. Compost and amended soil also are used around campus for ground maintenance, such as filling in worn spots around sidewalks, creating or refreshing flower beds and for many projects at Reiman Gardens.

The compost operation has drawn about 2,000 students and visitors, some coming great distances. Jonas said there's increasing interest in composting, and he gets visitors from other colleges and commercial enterprises looking to learn more about Iowa State's large-scale operation.

What makes it work

Honeyman identified three primary factors that allow ISU to conduct composting on such a large scale. First, there's a steady flow of inputs. The dairy cows producing manure literally around the clock, see to that. Second, it has the right person, Jonas, managing the operation. Finally, there's an outlet for finished product -- the 1,813-acre Iowa State campus.

"Good supply, good execution, good demand all come together to make it work," Honeyman said. "It's all these different pieces that work together. In fact, we'll probably expand a little bit more in the future."

Regents propose new phased retirement program

The state Board of Regents will take a first look at a new phased retirement proposal for regent system employees when it meets June 7-8 in Cedar Falls. The current program expires on June 30.

Its proposed replacement provides one- and two-year phased options (the current allows up to a five-year phased period). If a two-year phasing is selected, the maximum appointment in year one would be 65 percent, and 50 percent in year two. Compensation would match the phased work percentage in both years, but in the first year only, the university would have the option of offering up to an additional 10 percent of the employee's fulltime salary.

The terms of a one-year phased retirement match the second year in a two-year phased period.

During both years of the phasing, university and employee contributions for life insurance, health insurance, disability insurance and TIAA retirement accounts would continue at the employee's fulltime rate. Contributions to the Iowa Public Employees Retirement System or federal Civil Service System would be based on the employee's actual salary during the phased period.

Eligibility for phased retirement would not change under the new proposal. Faculty, professional and scientific staff and merit staff who are at least 57 years old with a minimum 15 years of service to the university -- they needn't be consecutive years -- would be eligible to request participation in the program.

The board will hold a special meeting before the end of June to vote on the phased retirement proposal. If it's approved, the policy would be in effect for five years, through June 30, 2022. The regent universities have offered a phased retirement option since 1982, renewed for five-year periods since then.

Related story

Phased retirement option set to expire in June, Jan. 5, 2017

Tuition increase, nursing degree are on regents agenda

An additional tuition increase for this fall, 2017-18 step increases for merit employees, a new B.S. degree for registered nurses and an update on the ISU presidential search are on the agenda when the state Board of Regents meets June 7-8 in Cedar Falls. The board will conduct executive performance evaluations June 6 in Ames at the Alumni Center.

Audio of all public portions of the three days will be livestreamed on the board website. The agenda and supporting materials also are online.

Tuition hike

As first presented at a May 8 special meeting, Iowa State has asked to assess an additional $216 in tuition from each of its students this fall. That's another 3 percent hike for resident undergraduates and between 0.4 percent (veterinary medicine nonresidents) and 2.5 percent (graduate residents) for all others over the 2017-18 rates the board approved in December.

The increase is in response to $11.5 million less in state operating support on July 1 from a year ago. If approved, the additional tuition would raise an estimated $7.1 million for Iowa State, depending on actual student enrollment this fall.

If the board approves the tuition increase, Iowa State resident undergraduates would pay 5 percent more -- $358 -- this fall than in fall 2016. For nonresident undergraduates, the difference would be $830, a 4.1 percent increase.

ISU tuition rates for 2017-18

Student group

Approved: December

Proposed: June

Total increase from 2016-17

Resident undergraduate



$358 (5.0%)

Nonresident undergraduate



$830 (4.1%)

Resident graduate



$470 (5.5%)

Nonresident graduate



$870 (4.0%)

Resident vet medicine*



$862 (4.0%)

Nonresident vet medicine*



$1,646 (3.5%)

*Excludes 12-month fourth year

Step increases, pay matrix for merit staff

The two-year collective bargaining agreement between the state of Iowa and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61, which covers Iowa State's merit employees, calls for 1 percent increases on July 1 in 2017 and 2018. Changes signed into Iowa law in February governing collective bargaining rights transfers the task of setting annual step increases to the regents' annual salary policy discussion. The proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is that no step increases be awarded in FY18. The board also will be asked to approve the July 1 pay matrix for the regents' merit system.

Nursing program

Senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert will present to the board's academic and student affairs committee a request to establish a Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) in the food science and human nutrition department. The degree is intended for students who have completed an associate degree in nursing and are licensed nurses. The program would be offered on campus.

While one national foundation recommends that by 2020, 80 percent of nurses hold bachelor's degrees, state nursing board data from 2016 put that number around 45 percent in Iowa.

Iowa State's program will emphasize the connection between nutrition, activity, health promotion and nursing care management. The proposal calls for an articulation agreement with the Des Moines Area Community College; others may follow.

The committee's recommendation on Iowa State's RN to BSN proposal goes to the full board Aug. 2 for final approval.

Pilot program for public comment

Board president Michael Richards will reintroduce a public comment period at board meetings, as a pilot program, beginning with the June 8 full board meeting. Up to 30 minutes at the start of the meeting is designated for members of the public who want to address the board. Speakers are required to register online; their comments will be limited to three minutes each.

The board will vote on suspending, during the pilot period, the videotaped one-hour public listening sessions that have been held on all the campuses in the week prior to a meeting since 2013. The listening sessions on June 1-2 will be held as scheduled.

Other business

Iowa State also will seek board approval on these items:

  • A schematic design and budget ($2.75 million) for a stereotactic radiation therapy addition to the small animal hospital at the College of Veterinary Medicine to treat pets with cancer. The project would be paid for with $1.8 million in university funds, $620,000 in private gifts and $330,000 in a state appropriation from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund. Construction would begin in October, with occupancy scheduled for February 2018.
  • A schematic design and revised budget ($2.2 million) for a remodeling/addition project in the southwest part of Sukup Hall to create a vehicle dynamometer lab for the purpose of testing engine force, torque and power. This lab was in the agricultural and biosystems engineering department's initial plans for Sukup, pending available funds. The project would be paid for with $1.8 million in private gifts and $400,000 in university funds. The anticipated construction period is January-July 2018.
  • Elimination of two centers: Center for Integrated Animal Genomics and Midwest Agribusiness Trade Research
  • College of Design leases with a downtown Ames landlord for three retail spaces. The college has leased two of the spaces for the last five years; those leases expire on July 31. The new leases are for three years with two 1-year renewal options.


Also on the agenda are these annual reports:

  • Sustainability programs on the three university campuses, June 8, full board
  • Financial literacy programs for students, June 8, full board
  • 2015-16 academic year student financial aid, June 7, academic and student affairs committee


Interviews set for business services candidates

Interviews will be conducted over the next two weeks for three finalists vying to become assistant vice president for business services in the university services division. Candidate names will be announced on the workday prior to each visit.

The position oversees operations for logistics and support services; printing and copy services; procurement services; risk management; transportation services; and the University Book Store. The assistant VP also serves as administrator for the Iowa State Center management agreement and ISU's food service contract.

Candidate résumés will be posted online when names are announced. Evaluation forms (PDF) are available online and will be provided at the open forums. Completed forms can be turned in at the forums, returned to 27 Armory or emailed to search committee chair Mark Miller (4 p.m. June 14 deadline).

Nancy Brooks served as interim assistant VP from July 2015 to her retirement from Iowa State last month. Norm Hill, director of logistics and support services, is serving in the post until it is filled. 

Candidate open forums

  • June 5, Cory Harms, Iowa State, 2:15-3:15 p.m., MU Oak Room
  • June 12, 2:15-3:15 p.m., MU Gold Room
  • June 14, 2:15-3:15 p.m., MU Gold Room