Delaware State wants to raise custodial salaries and compete in STEM

Hearings before the Joint Finance committee continued in Dover as Delaware State University presented its budget requests.

The university is requesting $38.8 million for its total operating budget for Fiscal Year 2014, a 2% increase from FY 2013.

In order to stay competitive for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) grants, DSU plans to allocate $2 million to help secure federal matching contributions.

“Those grants are coming directly from the federal government and what they’re looking at, they want to see what type of support you’re getting, if it’s going to be sustainable and when they see the state is supporting that, that’s a positive sign,” explained Dr. Harry Williams, president of DSU. “So we’ll use those dollars to support the research that’s connected with those specific research based programs such as optics and neuroscience and that venue.”

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Dr. Williams added that STEM programs make up a large percent of DSU academics.

“If you want to say we have a niche, it would be STEM,” he said. “We put in a lot of energy and resources to support that.”

The budget also includes $1 million to match the 1890 land grant appropriations the university receives.

“The state has a responsibility to take the percent we get from the federal government and match it dollar for dollar,” said Williams. “Currently, the state is matching it by 60 percent and what the provost asked is to fill it back in with 40 percent and that would be equal to the million dollars there.”

The university president also addressed the need for a pay increase for staff, specifically custodial workers who are currently making wages below the poverty line.

“It’s really difficult for a family of four to feed their families when they’re making less than $20,000 a year,” he said. “As you may be aware, the national poverty level for a family of four is $23,000 and we’re asking these people to do a lot of work on campus. They work really hard so this request that we’re asking for is 4 percent increase in their pay in their base. It’s bringing them up to average, it’s not going to put them over the top but, we’re trying to bring the average up so that’s why we put that in as a priority and we would use those dollars for that purpose only.”

The pay increases make up $1.8 million in the budget and would benefit approximately 75 workers.

Another topic discussed in the meeting but not outlined in the budget, is the university’s vision of making it safer for students to cross Rt. 13, the major road where the school is located.

Approximately 2,600 students live on campus and many cross the busy road to get to the mall and other local businesses and restaurants.

DNREC recently conducted a study and developed a few recommendations to make the street more pedestrian-friendly.

Dr. Williams said the school will review those recommendations and phase in the best solution. In the meantime, DNREC has put in a few crosswalks.

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