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City of Longview might expand tuition program for some employees

By Jimmy Isaac
July 26, 2011 at 11 p.m.

The city of Longview is considering a plan to pay costs up front for lower-level employees to continue their education toward positions with greater responsibility.

Human Resources Director Karri Hyko said the proposed amendment to Longview's Tuition Reimbursement Program, if approved Thursday by the City Council, would foster long-term diversity in the city's workplace, particularly in offices that require a college degree.

"We have an internal philosophy in the city of Longview of growing our own," Hyko said. "What we're doing is changing the policy, or changing the mechanism, for employees who ... have limited means because of the job that they are in."

The Tuition Reimbursement Program, in effect for about a decade, helps Longview municipal workers obtain higher education or credentials by reimbursing tuition costs if an employee completes an approved curriculum.

During 2010 discussions of City Manager David Willard's Employee Diversity Team, a conversation developed that the program might have "an artificial barrier" in which workers in certain departments - such as maintenance or administrative support that show the city's highest levels of ethnic diversity - are limited from promotion to other jobs or departments because of a lack of money, or up-front tuition costs, Hyko said.

Therefore, using a portion of about $40,000 in the Tuition Reimbursement Fund, Hyko proposes the city pay those costs in advance, so the employees do not have to pay out of pocket and wait for reimbursement at the end of the course. The proposal applies to employees earning less than $35,500 gross annually to gain their GEDs, associate's or bachelor's degrees.

<strong>The requirements:</strong>

Full-time employees must sign an agreement to reimburse the city if they fail to attain a C or above in the class, complete the class or provide receipts and report cards or transcripts.

Participants must agree to work in Longview for at least two years. New-hire or disciplinary probation employees are not eligible.

"It is very similar to the current Tuition Reimbursement Program in that (employees) must stay with the city at least two years or repay the tuition cost," Hyko said. "We hope this will open up doors for employees in job classes to allow them to gain the skills needed to move into jobs of greater responsibility in the city."

Hyko added that it will provide long-term diversity for the city, particularly in departments such as fire, police and technical departments.

Employees must be recommended by their supervisors and, if they are eligible, must first use other tuition funding before using program funds. Reimbursement will be paid at University of Texas at Tyler rates, because it is the nearest public, four-year higher education institution.



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