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OPINION

Ky. convention offers early retirement

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) -- Preceding what will be a reorganization of the entire Kentucky Baptist Convention, KBC Mission Board employees have been asked to consider retiring early or resigning voluntarily.
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In a KBC staff-only meeting March 7, Executive Director Paul Chitwood proposed the offer to all of the convention's 73 full-time employees.

The details of the offer include an early retirement option for all full-time employees age 60 and older or who will turn 60 by the end of the year. Those who accept the offer will receive full retirement benefits, including health care coverage until age 65 and Medicare supplement coverage past 65. A cash incentive also will be paid out based on an employee's years of service, the equivalent of one week's pay for every year worked, up to a 20-year maximum allowance.

According to KBC officials, 26 employees are eligible for early retirement.

For those employees not yet eligible for early retirement, the KBC has offered a "voluntary resignation incentive."

Those who choose that offer will be able to retain their jobs until June 30, then will be paid 90 days of salary and benefits. If an employee leaves earlier, the 90-day incentive will be paid upon departure.

Employees have 45 days from March 7 to accept or reject the offers.

"I believe these current offers are the best opportunities that will come for anyone who is considering either retirement or other ministry or work opportunities," Chitwood stated in a report that was presented to KBC staff.

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One caveat of the deal is that for those who opt not to retire early or resign, their positions could be eliminated if the reorganization plan -- which Chitwood will present to the KBC Mission Board May 7 -- is approved. Those employees would be terminated with no severance pay or benefits by the end of May. They also would not be eligible for unemployment benefits due to the convention's status as a nonprofit religious organization.

No positions have been eliminated as of yet, and Chitwood declined to say what the reorganization would look like. However, KBC staff members told the Western Recorder after the meeting that Chitwood acknowledged that the reduction of staff would be significant. (The Western Recorder, Kentucky Baptist Foundation and Woman's Missionary Union, which all have offices at the Kentucky Baptist Building, were asked not to attend the meeting.)

According to Chitwood's statement, the move is necessitated by a decade-long decline in Cooperative Program giving from Kentucky Baptist churches, mostly due to the economic recession.

Added to that decline is the Kentucky Baptist messengers' vote in 2010 to achieve a down-the-middle split of Cooperative Program funds between the KBC and the Southern Baptist Convention by 2020.

All of those factors combined "have created significant challenges for our KBC Mission Board staffing and strategy," Chitwood noted.

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In an email to the Western Recorder responding to a series of follow-up questions, Chitwood said the KBC is indeed facing "difficult days and hard decisions."

"I believe this measure is the most compassionate plan given the current needs of the KBC," he noted. Those who are ready to retire or move on "know that at least some provision is made for them," he added.

"Staff members who choose to wait and see do so knowing that a reorganization is likely coming that could eliminate their jobs," he continued.

Chitwood said the number of positions eliminated in the reorganization plan is dependent upon the number of staff members who accept the retirement and resignation offers. He declined to speculate as to how many employees might leave.

Reaction among KBC employees -- all of whom agreed to speak with the Western Recorder under condition of anonymity -- was mixed. Some agreed with Chitwood that the severance packages are fair and likely are better than what might be offered at a secular company in a similar financial position. Others, however, said they feel unappreciated by the offers and as if they're being pushed out the door. One employee said there are those who feel they're being forced to make decisions with incomplete information.

The mood among the employees at the meeting was described as "depressed," and that while the early-retirement packages were anticipated by some, few saw the voluntary resignation offers coming.

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The convention currently is operating on a $21.8 million "spendable" budget. That's down nearly $2 million from the $23.5 million messenger-approved Cooperative Program budget for the current year.

With less than a month and a half to make a decision about whether to stay or go, Chitwood has invited KBC employees to meet with him one on one before making up their minds.

"I simply want to be available to our staff to help them think through their decisions if they think that would be helpful," he said.

Drew Nichter is news director of The Western Recorder (www.westernrecorder.org), newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net

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