More than half of the 447 people UW-Madison rehired after they retired have been on the job for more than one year, the limit set by the university under a new policy last month, according to a State Journal analysis of data provided by the school.
Thirty-eight of them have been working for more than a decade as rehired annuitants, which means they earn both a paycheck and a pension. A handful stayed more than 15 years, and one technician has worked for the last 21 years at 60 percent of full-time, earning $34,975 a year in salary alone, the analysis found.
The new UW-Madison policy states hiring of retired employees is intended for short-term needs only, and the amount of time should be limited to a year, except in special cases. The university is reviewing the employment of each rehired annuitant, except for those under a set contract.
As the state grapples with what to do with retired employees who earn both a salary and a pension, universities are in a unique position.
They sometimes rely on retired faculty with hard-to-replace skills and experience to teach classes or conduct research. Some employees are paid by private or federally funded grants that extend beyond their retirement.
Public ire erupted over the issue when a UW-Green Bay administrator allegedly arranged to be rehired back to his same six-figure job before he retired, which would violate state law.
A bill introduced by Rep. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, would require public employees returning half time or more to suspend their pensions. Another bill being circulated would expand the required break between retirement and being rehired from 30 days to 180 days.
The 447 at UW-Madison appear to have abided by the state requirement that retirees wait at least 30 days before being rehired into a job covered by the Wisconsin Retirement System. The rules also prohibit retirees from making arrangements to return during that 30 days. But about one-third of the employees, or 157 of them, returned to the UW-Madison between 31 and 40 days after retiring.
Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer, I-Manitowoc, said he supports a six-month delay to avoid what he calls "phony retirements."
UW's review of its 447 rehired annuitants is ongoing.
"What I don't do is make, as some have, blanket assumptions about the status and rationale for 447 people being back on this campus post-retirement," said Darrell Bazzell, vice chancellor for administration. "The ones that get attention in the press are situations where a person may have come back in their past capacity. Those situations deserve attention. I don't know that those situations constitute the majority of the cases that we're reviewing."
Top administrators who returned to work in their prior roles include: Al Fish, associate vice chancellor for facilities, who earns $148,256; John Harrod, physical plant director, who earns $137,975; Donald Miner, assistant vice chancellor for business services, $125,000; and David Musolf, secretary of the faculty, who earns $120,501.
According to the Department of Employee Trust Funds, 6,829 public employees retired then returned to work at a job covered by the state retirement system over the past 5½ years.
About 12 percent of them returned to jobs at University of Wisconsin campuses. Some managers at UW-Madison say the university has unique needs that in some cases only can be filled by retired faculty or staff. And, they say, hiring retirees saves money.
Steffen Lemp, associate chairman of the UW-Madison Department of Mathematics, said his department often has employed emeritus faculty members to teach specialized math courses or when openings pop up at the last minute because of sabbaticals, illness or even retirements.
Retirees receive about $11,000 per class, compared with their former salaries ranging from $80,000 to $120,000 a year, he said. Retired faculty no longer qualify for benefits including health insurance.
"Typically retired professors are teaching because they like to teach," he said. "It's not a heck of a lot of money, and it fills a need. We couldn't run the department without them."
Among the rehired annuitants is Willis Long, a UW-Madison engineering professor who retired 11 years ago.
Long earns $91,614 per year from the university — plus a state pension — for teaching part-time about power plant operation for which participants pay $1,000 or more to attend.
Long said the training routinely generates income for the university that is double his salary.
And his skills are not easily duplicated. Long said the engineering school searched for five years to find a replacement for him. That new employee, hired this summer from the private sector, will take a while to get up to speed before he can take over the program, Long said.
"I enjoy what I do, I am unique in what I do, and I am good at it," he said.