Superintendent responds to assertions regarding salaries, benefits made by district critics

By Jennifer Eisenbart

Staff writer

It has been no secret over the last four months that a group of fiscal conservatives is unhappy with the way the Burlington Area School District is being run.

On Monday night, one of those conservatives fired a salvo at the BASD School Board.

Reading from a letter she had written (published in the ‘Your Views’ section of our ‘Opinion’ tab on this site), Bonnie Ketterhagen took the time first to offer a compliment the BASD staff for its hard work – and then took issue with the amount of compensation they receive.

“Merry Christmas, to the BASD staff, from the BASD taxpayers,” Ketterhagen read. “We hope you enjoy your over $7 million of untaxed, free benefits.”

Ketterhagen went on to highlight other details, including the costs of providing health, dental, life and disability insurance to BASD employees.

Later in the meeting, BASD Superintendent David Moyer attempted to refute statements made in a letter to the editor published in the Dec. 8 Standard Press and written by Philip Ketterhagen – Bonnie’s husband – that cited BASD’s average salaries for administrators and top-tier teachers and asserted they were in the top 17 percent of U.S. wage earners.

It was the latest in a prolonged war of words that started with the BASD Annual Meeting in August and has yet to cease.

“The Board of Education has the right to set the parameters for public input,” Moyer acknowledged. “If people choose to address the board, that’s an option that’s currently available to them.”

Moyer said his focus now is keeping the district on track during challenging economic times.

“I have to try and keep the focus on things we can control,” the superintendent said. “I certainly can’t control what individual citizens decide to do or not to do.”

Moyer did say the district has had to devote time, effort and funds to address the continuing issues this fall – time and money that Moyer implied could have been used better elsewhere.

“But I also have to do my job,” Moyer said. “If something becomes necessary, I’ll do what I need to do.”

In responding to the statements in Philip Ketterhagen’s letter, Moyer didn’t dispute the numbers, but did point out that the figures cited by Ketterhagen didn’t represent the district as a whole and thus were skewed to make a point.

“I thought that they were misleading, and I thought that it was important that our board had actual factual information in front of them,” the superintendent said.

In a two-page memo to board members, Moyer took issue with Ketterhagen’s letter only considering the top tier of district employees – administrators and teachers at the top of the pay scale who likely hold positions of leadership in addition to responsibilities in co-curricular activities.

In his memo, Moyer compared district employees to their peers elsewhere in the region and state.

“According to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, BASD’s 2010 beginning teacher salary ranked 183rd out of 288, (which was) $910 below the state average,” Moyer wrote. “Its top salary on the old salary schedule was $69,356, which ranked 54th, $7,235 above the state average.”

He also contends administrators here are paid less than their peers statewide.

“…Even with the salary adjustments that were made for the 2011 school year, most BASD principals still earn less this year than their peers did last year,” Moyer wrote.

In response Monday night, Bonnie Ketterhagen said that she and her husband would be writing another letter to the editor refuting Moyer’s numbers.

The long-running dispute could come to a head this spring during the School Board election. BASD secretary Priscilla Crowley confirmed that the two incumbents – John Anderson and Susan Kessler – had taken out papers to run for school board again.

She also confirmed that Roger Koldeway, Jordan Debbink and Philip Ketterhagen had taken out papers, but wasn’t sure whether they were getting papers for themselves or for someone else wishing to run.

Philip Ketterhagen said Tuesday that he didn’t know yet whether he or his wife would run. Debbink said he was considering running, but has decided not to.

“I think, within time, several other candidates will reveal themselves,” Debbink said.

Find the letters from the Ketterhagens as well as others taking different views of the issue on the opinion tab under ‘Your Views.’


Editor’s note: The version of this story that appeared appeared in the Thursday, Dec. 15, print edition of the Burlington Standard Press mistakenly substituted the name Koldeway for Ketterhagen on two instances. The corrected story appears here. The Standard Press apologizes for the error.