Teacher that Cried Poverty Over Act 10 Still Lives in $550K Home

Erpenbach Emails Reveal Multiple Outlandish Claims from Government Workers

December 2, 2014

by Haley Sinklair

[Madison, Wisc…] An in-depth analysis of more than 1,500 emails sent to Sen. Jon Erpenbach’s (D-Middleton) office during the 2011 protests shows that many government workers not only used government resources during normal business hours to lobby the senator on Act 10, but they also made outlandish claims that publicly available data shows never materialized.

The MacIver Institute obtained more than 2,100 pages of emails after a multi-year legal fight with Erpenbach and has spent months combing through each email.

After Big Labor union bosses embellished their political rhetoric over the supposed damages of Act 10, it is not surprising that similar language trickled down to government employees in their emails to Erpenbach. While the unions decried Act 10 as a law that would force people to leave their professions, many teachers and other government employees made similar claims about massive pay cuts and the inability to pay for their homes or other necessities.

An employee at a southern Wisconsin school district perhaps made the farthest reach by claiming her house would be foreclosed on if she was required to make small contributions to her health care plan and pension.

“I already struggle to make ends meet and to make my mortgage payments,” she wrote in an email to Erpenbach.

However, an investigation by MacIver staff found the employee’s salary and benefits were in excess of $110,000 during the 2013-14 school year. While the employee’s benefits dropped from nearly $40,000 in 2010-11 to about $33,000 in 2013-14, she saw an increase in salary from just under $75,000 to nearly $79,000.

On top of a six-figure compensation package, the same employee owns a lakefront home worth more than $550,000, according to local county property records. The employee owned the same house at the time of her email in 2011.

Multiple emails to Erpenbach’s office were very similar. MacIver has released a small sampling of the emails below.

Current salary and benefit information for the email senders is from the 2013-14 school year, which is the most recent data available for public school employees from the Department of Public Instruction. For government workers not employed by a local school district, the most recent data available is from 2013, but it does not include benefits.

One emailer from a Dane County school district claimed Act 10 would force her to live on public assistance.

State Money Erpenbach Text Box.png“This puts me on state money, you will be paying for my insurance, my food, my housing,” her email read.

This employee had a total compensation of $76,244 in the 2013-14 school year. That was an increase from $75,679 in 2010-11.

A technical college instructor complained in an email to Erpenbach that she wouldn’t be able to afford the current necessities and leisure activities that her and her family enjoy.

“We will have less money to do the following: buy groceries, have well doctor visits for things such as vaccinations etc., attend sporting events (such as UW games), and pay for our kids college education,” wrote the instructor.

Upon further investigation it was found that the individual made nearly $94,000 in salary alone for the 2012-13 school year.

A government employee who works for a county northwest of Madison, whose wife also works for a local school district, asked how they would be able to keep up with mortgage payments if Act 10 passed.

“Will I be able to keep my house?” asked the public employee.

According to salary information, the couple grossed nearly $92,000 in salary alone in 2011 (2010-11 school year). That increased to more than $96,000 in 2013 (2013-14 school year) after each received raises. He and his wife own the same home that they owned in 2011, according to local property records.

Another Dane County school district employee also questioned whether or not he would be able to keep his home.

“How are we going to keep the house?” asked the school district employee.

Yet the public employee still owns the same home he owned in 2011, and received nearly $80,000 in salary and benefits for the 2013-14 school year. The employee saw a small boost in total compensation from $79,312 in 2010-11 to $79,713 in 2013-14.

A school district employee in Jefferson County claimed that paying her family’s bills would become difficult and that she and her family would not be able to keep their home.

Daughter Erpenbach Text Box.png“I do not know how we are going to pay our bills. My daughter is really attached to our house. It breaks my heart knowing that we will most likely not be able to keep it,” she wrote.

The employee took home $7,666 more in the 2013-14 school year compared to the 2010-11 school year, a 7% increase in three years. Her total compensation increased from just under $103,000 to more than $110,000.

Property records show that she and her husband still own the same home as they did in 2011.

One emailer went so far as to say that public employees would be discriminated against socially and politically if Act 10 passed.

“Public workers would become 2nd class citizens,” wrote the public school employee.

But the school district employee still owns the same home worth more than $237,000. The employee also made over $88,000 in salary and benefits in the 2012-13 school year, the last year she was employed with the school district, according to public records.

While her benefit package dropped from $27,741 in 2010-11 to $25,548 in 2012-13, her salary increased from $61,900 to $63,309.

A school district employee in Manitowoc County confirmed what many Wisconsin residents speculated over when it seemed teachers were skipping class to protest at the state capitol.

“I called in sick today to participate in the protests in Madison,” was written in the first line of her email.

Call in sick Erpenbach Text Box.pngDespite the employee’s sick day stunt, she maintains the same position she held in 2011, and grossed more than $84,000 in salary and benefits for the 2013-14 school year. The $84,000 in compensation is an increase from about $82,000 in 2010-11.

After investigating theses exaggerated claims made by government workers, MacIver found that many of them were still employed (often by the same institution), still owned their homes, did not have to file for bankruptcy, and saw salary increases rather than the cuts they claimed they would be facing.

**Editor’s Note**

After receiving unredacted copies of emails about Act 10 sent to Sen. Erpenbach’s office during the 2011 protests at the state capitol, we at the MacIver Institute have decided not to release the names of the individuals that sent the emails. We think legislators do not have the right to decide what public documents should be shielded from public view, and the court agreed. However, we believe the names of the individuals are not relevant to this story. Our ultimate goal was to simply find out how many government workers were lobbying Sen. Erpenbach about Act 10 while being paid by taxpayers and to check the validity of their statements. We want to keep the focus of this story on the outlandish claims, some would say outright lies, of the union members and Big Labor, not some trumped-up charge from our critics that we violated someone’s privacy. We hope that by reporting on this story in this fashion the public will look at the facts and be leery next time Big Labor makes unsubstantiated and over-dramatic predictions about a common sense policy change. Therefore, we have no intention of publishing the identities of the people that sent emails we received in our open records request.