It was a three year fight to open the books on the entire payroll of the Wyoming public schools. Finally, the salaries of every educator, administrator, and staffer have been posted online.
Starting in 2017, our organization at OpenTheBooks.com filed open records requests with the 48 public school districts. Some districts wanted to charge us fees up to $3,600. Only 18 of the districts produced a responsive record of their payrolls – the rest of the districts arguably violated transparency law.
Enter Tom James a new state senator. He learned that the Superintendent of Public Instruction compiled the records each year. So James filed his request and successfully captured three years of data. Then, our organization requested a copy as well.
“Public school employees are paid by taxpayers and therefore taxpayers get to see where their dollars are going. For the first time in history, I made sure the books were open to the public.”
Hon. Tom James, Wyoming State Senator
The new data shows that there are 16,306 full-time employees making $816.5 million in cash compensation. Adding the cost of benefits such as paid time off and pensions, taxpayer costs are estimated to exceed $1 billion.
In Wyoming, only 93,000 students are enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade. That means each student on average is allocated over $10,000 in payroll cost alone.
Our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com found that superintendents earned up to $216,305 per year – out-earning every governor of the 50 states. Last year, 321 educators made more than $100,000. We found 534 educators out-earned the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, who made $92,000.
Use our search tool to review all compensation paid to Wyoming educators over the past three years.
Here are seven key facts about the Wyoming public school payroll:
- Hardest working: Last year, Troy Reichert at Platte #2 (Guernsey-Sunrise) had eleven paid assignments – more than any other educator. The assignments ranged from vocational instruction in manufacturing, welding, architecture, construction, and engineering to coaching football, basketball, and track to sponsoring clubs to student tutoring. Reichert earned $72,121 last year.
2. Top paid: Terry Snyder, Superintendent of Fremont #25 (Riverton), ranked as the highest paid educator after his disclosed compensation increased last year from $157,218 to $216,304. Rounding out the top five most highly paid: Steven Hopkins, Superintendent of Natrona #1 in Casper ($208,291); Craig Dougherty, Superintendent of Sheridan #2 ($207,600); Gillian Chapman, Superintendent of Teton #1 in Jackson ($203,898); and Boyd Brown, Superintendent of Laramie #1 in Cheyenne ($196,000).
We reached out to all superintendents mentioned. Only Snyder, through his business manager at Fremont, offered clarification. In 2019, Snyder’s base salary of $157,218 was fixed by contract, but his “assignment salary” amounted to $216,304 because of “payment-in-kind” payments. These payments included a $8,400 car allowance, $23,582 into a retirement annuity, and health insurance premiums.
3. Highest paying districts: The districts paying the most six-figure compensation packages include Laramie #1 (60), Natrona #1 (44), Campbell #1 based in Gillette (37), Teton #1 (21), and Sweetwater #2 based in Green River (13). In Fremont #25, although their superintendent earns a generous salary, only seven other employees made six-figures.
4. Interesting positions/pay survey: In Wyoming, drill instructors at boot camp in Campbell #1 earned up to $55,767 and bus drivers in Teton #1 made $62,456. The school secretaries in Sweetwater #1 (Rock Springs) earned $62,400 and driver instructors at Natrona #1 made $76,123. In Teton #1, social workers took home $84,891 and English as a Second Language directors made $94,511. The grants writers/federal grant managers in Sweetwater #2 received $103,521; the ROTC instructors in Laramie #1 made $109,216; and food service directors in Teton #1 earned $128,655.
5. Notable people: Wyoming Speaker of the House Steve Harshman is a physical education teacher and the football coach at Natrona #1 who made $86,435 last year. In 2018, the Mustangs won the state championship. John Balow, a Special Education Director at Laramie #1, earned $134,913 and out-earned his wife, Jillian Balow, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction who made $91,998.
Jillian Balow believes that elected officials, like herself, should have a lower salary than non-elected government executives, so as to not profit from elected office.
6. Gross compensation statewide: During a three-year period, total payroll costs across all districts dropped by $20.7 million, or 2.5 percent. In 2016-2017, employees earned $837.4 million and $816.7 million last year (2018-2019).
7. Full time employee counts statewide: The number of full time employees dropped by 3.5 percent from 16,963 staffers in 2016-2017 to 16,360 staffers in 2018-2019. Statistics were disclosed as “full time equivalents.” Each full-time employee, on average, earned $50,000 last year.
“The names of public employees, with the exceptions to production set forth in the Wyoming Public Records Act (W.S. 16-4-201, et al.), should be public. An informed citizenry is at the heart of our republic; I am an ardent government transparency advocate. In no way would I thwart an appropriate public records request.”
Hon. Jillian Balow, State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Taxpayer funding of public education in Wyoming continues to be a hot-button topic.
Currently, the state legislature is debating whether or not to continue funding up to 2,200 “ghost teaching positions.” The state provides tens of millions of dollars in funding even though the positions are vacant. The appropriated money is being spent by schools on other operations – not the positions.
Lawmakers and many others are trying to get to the bottom of that issue too. In the meantime, Wyoming should be applauded for taking another giant leap toward transparency.
Note: All “salary” and/or compensation amounts referenced in this piece were disclosed as “Assignment Salary” by the Wyoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SSPI) subject to our open records request. In the data legend, SSPI defined “Assignment Salary” as “The total salary associated with this assignment.”