TUA Executive Director Rae Ann McNeilly was quoted by the Wisconsin Reporter about the highest compensated public employees within the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
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.
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.”
TUA’s annual study of the top Illinois pensioners was featured on CBS Chicago WBBM Newsradio. To listen to the story, click on the player below.
[audio:https://www.taxpayersunitedofamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/audio/pensions-tafoya2-apr30.mp3|titles=Jim Tobin on WBBM Newsradio]
CHICAGO (CBS) – A taxpayer group that monitors the state’s pension problems said there are more retired state workers than ever drawing pensions of more than $100,000 per year.
Taxpayers United of American said more than 11,000 people receive six-figure pensions from the state, and by 2020, that number will balloon to 25,000.
The anti-tax group’s annual report also said more than 78,000 state pensioners receive more than $50,000 a year.
TUA founder Jim Tobin said, at the rate things are going, Illinois will not be able to sustain payments in the long-run.
“These people are … contributing very small amounts into their million-dollar pension payouts, and expect us – the taxpayers – to work until we drop so they can retire in their 50s and live the Life of Riley on our dollars,” Tobin said. “It’s an obscene, immoral system.”
Tobin said the pension reforms approved by the Illinois General Assembly and the governor last year are not enough. He said state workers need to pay more into their pensions and their health care premiums.
The TUA report pointed out educator Larry K. Fleming, who retired at age 55, receives more than $258,000 a year in state pensions, and stands to collect more than $11 million in his projected lifetime.
“He paid a whopping $326,000, or 2.8 percent of his estimated lifetime payout,” Tobin said.
President Jim Tobin and Executive Director Rae Ann McNeilly were interviewed by CBS 58 News for a story about double dipping within the Wisconsin pension system.
MADISON — A Wisconsin legislative audit shows thousands of state employees are retiring, and getting rehired by their former employer a few months later. This is what many call double dipping, collecting a pension while also collecting a paycheck from the government..
Rae Ann McNeilly, Executive Director of Taxpayers United of America (TUA), says government workers are doing this because they can practically double their income while in their 50s.
“We’ve been taxed to death so these people can live high on the hog,” complains TUA President Jim Tobin.
Pension systems in some states prohibit the practice, but Wisconsin isn’t one of those states.
Employees working for city, county or state government in Wisconsin receive contributions to their pension fund. Up until 2011, nearly 100 percent was paid by the employer — or the taxpayers. As a result of reforms, now many workers must contribute about 50 percent to their pension fund, and the taxpayers foot the other half.
When workers are eligible to retire — often at the age of 55 — they leave their job and begin collecting a monthly pension check for life. But after 30 days they can be rehired — for the same job at the same pay, and it’s all perfectly legal.
The state report said government agencies rehire pension-collecting workers because they have the skills and experience needed for the job.
The audit says most of the rehired employees only worked part-time for less than a year while also collecting a pension, but some stayed on the job — cashing both checks — for years and years.
Some blame the unions for the practice, but Wisconsin Professional Police Association Executive Director Jim Palmer says he agrees that returning to the same job after retirement sounds ridiculous.
“It’s not something we see in a law enforcement setting,” said Palmer.
He says many officers do go back to work part-time for the government after retiring, often at a technical college or smaller agency where salaries are considerably lower.
Palmer says many officers can only afford to take those jobs because they are collecting a pension check in addition to a part-time paycheck.
“If they can hire an officer who is retired and has a wealth of experience, that’s of great benefit to a local municipality,” Palmer noted.
Rep. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) said in an email that the latest state budget for 2013-2015 included provisions he suggested to curb double dipping, by cutting off state pension checks to anyone who goes back to work more than 26 hours per week at a government agency.
But Rep. Stroebel acknowledged that a recent state audit showed 7,856 past retirees continue to collect a full-time paycheck and a pension check from the state because they were grandfathered in before the change. He said that number does not include part-time workers, people who had been double dipping prior to January 2005, and people who returned as independent contractors.
Auditors say state agencies paid $1.7 million for goods and services provided by 266 pension-collecting retirees from 2007 to 2012.
Rep. Stroebel refused to discuss the issue on camera, and so did 50 other legislators — both Democrats and Republicans — contacted by CBS 58 about double dipping, though one scheduled an interview that he later canceled.
Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) told us by phone the double dipping controversy had already been hashed out and both parties had reached a compromise, so lawmakers didn’t want to talk about it anymore.
“Nobody is working on that issue. The compromise wiped that issue from the table. Nobody is looking to take it any further,” he insisted, a sentiment echoed by others approached for an interview.
The bottom line is there appears to be no political will in Wisconsin to eliminate double dipping altogether.
But Tobin’s TUA group isn’t satisfied with that.
“It’s done in the politicians’ minds, but not in the minds of the taxpayers,” he added. “Much more has to be done. Wisconsin pension liabilities are growing much faster than the ability of taxpayers to pay them.”
Palmer refutes that, and says Wisconsin has a fully funded pension system this is “one of the healthiest in the country.”
The Department of Employee Trust Funds says the state paid out a total of $4.2 billion in pension benefits in 2012, an amount that’s been increasing since 2008 when the total was $3.8 billion.
TUA says the exact cost of double dipping is unknown, because Wisconsin won’t release the amount collected by each individual government retiree — information released in 33 other states.
“Stop hiding the pensions behind these secrecy laws. The taxpayers have a right to see what each person is drawing in a pension,” added McNeilly.
TUA puts together its own estimates of future pension payments for the highest paid state employees based on their publicly-available current government salary.
You can see those estimates at this link: