Editor’s note: This story corrects the number of superintendents whose salaries were reviewed. Wausau Pilot & Review regrets any confusion.
By Shereen Siewert
Wausau School Superintendent Keith Hilts ranks sixth in compensation among 17 in similar positions statewide, despite being among three officials with the lowest total experience, according to the DPI website.
Data obtained by Wausau Pilot & Review through an open records request shows Hilts’ total compensation for the last school year at $246,006 including salary and benefits. At the time, he had 12 years of experience, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
Hilts’ ranking, in a district with enrollment of 7,847 is higher than some superintendents overseeing larger districts with far more students.For example, Waukesha Superintendent James Sebert, with enrollment of nearly 12,000, earned $240,866 inclusive of benefits, ranking 10th overall. The highest paid superintendent during the 2021-22 school year as reviewed was D.C. Everest’s Kristine Gilmore, who has since retired. Data calculated her compensation at $294,421 with 31 years of experience prior to her departure.
Eau Claire, Janesville and Sheboygan also have enrollment numbers higher than Wausau but pay their superintendents less. Of those, only Janesville’s superintendent has fewer years of experience.
The data was distributed to all members of the Wausau School Board during the week the group reviewed Hilts’ performance in closed session. Of note, the data pointed out that Hilts has the second-fewest years of experience in education, according to the DPI, and is just $2,500 away from the number two-paid spot in the positions used in the comparison.
The compensation analysis of 17 superintendents prompted at least one member of the Wausau School Board to push back against a request for a larger pay increase than other district employees would receive.
In an email obtained by Wausau Pilot & Review as part of the same open records request, Board Member Pat McKee told President Jim Bouche there was “clear consensus that it would be ill advised to offer Hilts” a larger increase.
“It was encouraging to hear that Lance (Trollop’s) analysis reached the same conclusion as mind: The current superintendent compensation package we are offering is fair and equitable compared to others in similar roles.”
“As mentioned last evening, if he chooses to leave because of compensation, we need to allow that to happen and not get into a bidding war for [what] would be a relatively short term…solution,” McKee went on to write.
In Hilts’ most recent evaluation, board members gave him largely satisfactory ratings, though some comments are contradictory. Hilts was given an “excellent” rating for his working relationship with the board, who said he “works hard to make sure that there are no surprises” and that the board “appreciates being informed with pertinent information.” Yet, transparency for the board to avoid “confusion” for board members is listed as an area for growth for the coming year.
In the review, board members appeared not to consider the massive community outcry regarding Hilts’ plan to reconfigure the district by combining high schools and closing five elementary schools, among other plans. Public criticism has been severe for the district by members of the community who felt blindsided when the plans were unveiled, even after Hilts’ reassured voters prior to a crucial referendum that closing schools was off the table.
In his review, the board listed communication to the community as “excellent.”