Published at the beginning of the year, the Gannett Wisconsin Media Investigative Team's groundbreaking "What We Pay" reports and databases marked the first time public employee pay in the state had been scrutinized in a comprehensive way. That is kind of incredible when you think about it. It would seem like important information to have!
Our tax money pays the salaries of these workers, who are subject to constant claims and counterclaims in public debates. All the data about their pay are public records. But the I-Team was the first to go to the trouble of chasing down all the data from all the municipalities, counties, agencies and departments and compiling it in a simple, searchable database.
The project made a lot of people uncomfortable and it offended some - some who were public employees themselves, some who weren't. Some people believed it was inappropriate to publicize the data, or saw a (quite nonexistent) partisan agenda behind the project.
In fact, though, the data provided context to all sorts of important debates. The information illuminated the serious pay gap between faculty at the University of Wisconsin System and comparable university systems in other states. It provided context and sometimes changed the minds of those who assumed that most public workers were pulling in massive salaries. And it uncovered real problems, such as a broken overtime system - since amended - at Northcentral Technical College and other tech schools.
Gannett Wisconsin's I-Team recently unveiled the latest installments of the series, with updated databases and new categories of public employees included. You can read it or search the databases at www.wausaudailyherald.com/whatwepay.
Here's one thing we noticed from the latest set of data: Teachers are starting to get pay raises again, slight as they might be.
Teachers' salaries were up just a tick in 2012-13, when they saw a $47 pay increase from the previous school year. (Administrators on the whole received considerably larger raises.) There was also a small increase in the number of full-time equivalent teaching positions.
These are no small matters in a still-somewhat-unsteady economy in which growth in Wisconsin has felt excruciatingly slow. And any increase is more than a lot of other professions can claim. We see these, both the slight salary increases and the slight hiring uptick, as good things, and perhaps a sign that the teaching profession is stabilizing after it was thrown into a harsh spotlight amid the turmoil over Gov. Scott Walker's Act 10 reforms.
To be sure, many teachers took a pay cut when they were required to contribute more to their health insurance and pension plans. Average pay remains lower than it was in 2010-11. But perhaps what we are seeing, if in small, cautious, incremental steps, is something like a post-recession, post-recall sort of normalcy beginning to be established.
That would be a welcome development.