DPI’s highest compensated employees get richer


By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — The past two years have been good to high-level administrators in state Superintendent Tony Evers’ Department of Public Instruction.

GOOD PAY: It pays to be a high level administrator in Tony Evers’ DPI.

More than half of the employees working in Evers’ office received bonuses in the past two years, while less than a quarter of all other DPI employees received bonus compensation, according to records obtained by Wisconsin Reporter through an open records request.

The state calls these pay raises discretionary merit, equity or retention compensation awards. It’s how government employers increase workers’ pay beyond the salary adjustment for all state employees, which is set by the Legislature.

Since June 2012, the department has handed out bonuses to 117 employees. The department employs 487 people, according to the staff directory. Four employees received two bonuses in the past two years.

In total, the department handed out $398,140 in permanent pay increases and $63,700 in one-time cash payments, records showed.

While most state employees received raises of 1 percent pay, it was best to be in Evers’ inner circle. Seven of 11 in Evers’ cabinet, who already make more in annual salary than 95 percent of Wisconsin workers, received an additional $30,230 in bonus compensation in the past two years.

  • Michael Thompson, deputy superintendent, received a $2.36-hourly raise in October 2013, bringing his salary to $125,735, from $120,807. Thompson now earns more than Evers, who makes $120,111 a year.
  • Carolyn Stanford Taylor, assistant state superintendent, received a $2.152-hourly raise to $114,475.
  • Lynette Russell, an assistant state superintendent, received a raise of $2 an hour to $115,258.
  • Sheila Briggs, assistant state superintendent, received a $2 an hour raise, bringing her salary to $115,258.
  • Kurt Kiefer, assistant state superintendent, received a $1.991 an hour raise to $115,258.
  • Brian Pahnke, assistant state superintendent, received a $2.152 an hour raise to $114,475.
  • John Johnson, a spokesman for the agency, received a $1.893 an hour raise to $94,906.

Several other employees in the Office of State Superintendent also received bonuses.

  • Jennifer Kammerud, a legislative liaison, received a $1 an hour raise to $73,658.
  • Karen Nowakowski, another Evers’ assistant, received a $1 an hour raise to $59,193.
  • Mary Jo Christiansen, an assistant to Evers, received a $1 an hour raise to $53,714.
  • Rebecca Hannah, another Evers’ assistant, received a $1 an hour raise to $50,488.

Click here to see the full data.

Technically, the department doesn’t grant bonuses, DPI told Wisconsin Reporter when it fulfilled the open records request, “but rather the ability to grant increases pursuant to the Compensation Plan.”

The Legislature sets the state employee Compensation Plan, which is then published by the Office of State Employment Relations.

Personnel evaluations, which are required for state agencies to award merit, equity or retention pay raises, are not subject to the public records law. The Office of State Employment Relations does not review the evaluations before approving compensation awards.

“We’re sucking up money from poor, rural farming communities and giving it to handpicked administrators on criteria that isn’t even articulated to the public,” said Rae Ann McNeilly, executive director of Taxpayers United of America, a government watchdog organization which works in Illinois and Wisconsin. “The money goes into this big money pot and the bureaucracy grows.”

According to the compensation plan, state agencies must develop procedures to grant discretionary merit compensation and equity and retention adjustments in compliance with OSER directives. OSER must approve these payments unless they delegate the authority to the state agency.

Stephanie Marquis, spokeswoman for the Department of Administration, said that while DPI has not been granted delegation authority, OSER has approved DPI’s plan to award merit, equity and retention awards. Merit awards, she said, are to recognize employees for outstanding performance. Equity and retention awards are to retain employees or get their pay equitable with counterparts.

“Taxpayers need to be aware of where their money is going,” McNeilly said. “The bureaucrats don’t want you to see it. This is the problem with removing local control in education. We are siphoning money away from taxpayers up to a bureaucracy and removing it from the students DPI purports to be collecting it on behalf of.”

Contact Ryan Ekvall at rekvall@watchdog.org, 608-257-1382 or follow him on Twitter @Nockian.