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BTC officials explain raises in time of economic stress

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
May 28, 2010
— At a time of high unemployment and widespread wage cuts, Blackhawk Technical College is raising pay for its administrative staff.

BTC Board Chairman Tom Westrick said the raises are needed to keep quality staff.


Rock County Treasurer Vicki Brown, who is returning her own raises back to the county, said this is not the time. She has been a critic of public employee pay raises.


“This public employee cannot understand how other public employees feel they ‘deserve’ a pay raise when many of the people paying our salaries are hurting financially,” Brown said Thursday in an e-mail after being asked for a comment.


Brown noted that BTC has proposed a budget that does not increase property taxes, but she said that’s no excuse.


The decision was difficult, “but we feel we have to do what is required to do in order to keep good, qualified people, understanding that in some cases it might be a hard pill to swallow because of the unemployed, underemployed and things like that,” Westrick said.


The base wage increase for 71 BTC administrative employees averaged 2.81 percent, but some got additional boosts. Twenty-seven staff members got raises greater than 4 percent. Eight got more than 6 percent.


Westrick said the board voted unanimously for the raises after taking into account a “delicate balance” between the need to keep good people and the needs of taxpayers.


BTC’s role is to prepare workers for the workforce, Westrick said, “so we need to have a very diverse staff in order to meet those demands, and sometimes those skills are very hard to come by. … So we feel we need to do what we can to keep the staff we have, that we feel is doing an excellent job.”


Brian Gohlke, vice president for human resources, said two of the raises—those of deans Melanie Baak and Nancy Lightfield—were higher than the 2.81 percent to move them closer to the midpoint of their salary ranges.


Salary ranges are established through a consultant’s study every three years, Gohlke said. The study considers what is being paid for similar positions elsewhere. BTC’s practice is to have employees near the midpoint by the time they reach seven years of service, Gohlke said.


Four of the raises were substantial because their jobs were changed to include significant additional duties.


Kelly Dempsey, for example, received a 9.6 percent boost to $55,329, the biggest increase among the 71 workers. That was because she went from being a facilities specialist last August to taking on much more responsibility as manager of purchasing and facilities design, Gohlke said.


Vice President of Student Services Edward Robinson, hired this year, received a raise of 6.4 percent, boosting his pay to $100,000. Gohlke said Robinson had not had the experience of working at such a senior level, but his performance has been outstanding in the eyes of the board and President Eric Larson.


Also, it was felt that Robinson’s salary should be closer to those of the other vice presidents.


Westrick said the problem would not be as difficult if property taxes were not a major source of revenue.


“If someone has ideas about different ways of funding education, we’re eager to listen, because something needs to be done,” Westrick said.


Brown sees it differently: “Personally, I feel fortunate to have a job, and a job with good benefits. To ask the public to pay me more during these difficult times is mind boggling to me.”



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