It can pay (very well) to work for the state

DOVER — It’s good to be Mark Brainard.

The chief of Delaware’s only junior college topped tens of thousands of state employees last year by being paid close to $267,000, the highest total among those employed by the First State.

Mr. Brainard, who was named the fifth president of Delaware Technical Community College in August 2014, was one of about 1,900 individuals on the state payroll who made six figures in calendar year 2018.

That list includes the expected big names and public faces of state government like Gov. John Carney, Chief Justice Leo Strine and several school superintendents. But it also counts plenty of people who work behind the scenes, helping keep the state and its myriad services running.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average Delawarean made an annual salary of $53,320 as of May. Data from the Delaware Office of Management and Budget indicates 220 state employees nearly tripled that by pulling in $150,000 or more, up from 201 in 2017 and 178 in 2016.

While Mr. Brainard was the most well-compensated Delaware employee, he was not the highest-paid or wealthiest Delawarean. Approximately 24,000 Delaware taxpayers made more than $250,000 in 2016, and according to Forbes, the richest Delawareans are Gore heirs Robert Gore (the stepfather of Chris Coons, Delaware’s junior senator) and Elizabeth Snyder, at $750 million each.

Some people working at the University of Delaware and Delaware State University also topped Mr. Brainard’s pay.

According to GuideStar, which compiles Internal Revenue Service forms filed by nonprofits, at least 30 UD and six DSU employees were paid more than $267,000 in 2016, the last year for which that information is available. Seven UD employees topped $500,000 in 2016.

However, individuals working at the two institutions are not counted as public-sector employees in state payroll data and so are not included here in the state’s wage-earners list.

The wage information counts not just base salary but also overtime and other earnings, such as non-monetary compensation and accrued sick leave paid out when someone leaves the state.

The state payroll system records close to 57,000 entries for 2018, some of which are individuals who were paid multiple times by different agencies or school districts. Because of the sheer magnitude of the data and because some entries must be added together to determine how much a person was paid, it is extremely time-consuming and tedious to figure out exactly how many Delaware employees made six figures. As such, the number of state government employees who topped $100,000 in 2018 only can be said to be approximately 1,900.

But even with that caveat, the data offers a useful look at how taxpayer dollars are being distributed to state government employees, particularly at the high end.

Of course, the average state employee earned considerably less than those on the following list, who make up the top earners of 2018.

Top 10

Mr. Brainard, who celebrated his 10-year anniversary at DelTech in September, also was the highest-paid state government employee in 2017, when he made close to $249,000.

He saw his earnings increase about 7 percent in 2018, although he still falls well short of the $400,000-plus his predecessor, Orlando George, collected in his last years at DelTech.

Mr. Brainard has ranked in the top four earners statewide in each of the four full years he has headed the college.

A 2017 study commissioned by DelTech reported the median salary for the heads of 21 similar community colleges was about $307,000.

Second on the list for 2018 is Brian Mulvena, a patrol trooper with the Delaware State Police who made about $256,000, with more than half of that coming from overtime.

He’s followed by Brandywine School District Superintendent Mark Holodick, another regular among the highest-paid state employees every year. Dr. Holodick made nearly $246,000 in 2018.

A superintendent’s salary is determined by the school district’s board of education.

“Generally speaking, compensation for public education employees in Delaware takes into account years of experience and education level. Dr. Holodick is now in his 10th year as superintendent, so he is one of the longest-tenured superintendents in the state,” Brandywine spokeswoman Alexis Andrianopoulos wrote in an email.

Dr. Holodick’s total earnings include about $44,000 in “other” pay, which could be salary paid by the school district rather than the state.

Fourth on the list is Chief Medical Examiner Gary Collins, who earned about $244,000 last year. One of five people to rank in the top 10 in each of the past four years, Dr. Collins was hired in 2014 after the state created a new Division of Forensic Science in the wake of drug thefts in the now defunct Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Behind him is Richard Margolis, the medical director for the Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services in the Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families. He was paid about $237,000 in 2018.

In sixth place is another member of law enforcement, David Weaver. Employed by the Delaware State Police’s criminal investigation unit, he collected about $227,000, much of which was “other” pay.

Assistant Medical Examiner Jennie Vershvovsky follows him, earning slightly more than $224,000 last year. In eighth is Delaware Psychiatric Center nurse Anthony Agbola, who was paid about $222,000. Mr. Agbola benefited in a big way from overtime, collecting six figures in OT pay alone in 2018.

Joseph McGrory, a member of the Delaware State Police’s criminal investigation team, also saw a big reward for the extra hours he worked: more than $99,000 in overtime pay en route to total earnings of about $221,000.

Rounding out the list is Delaware Psychiatric Center Residency Program Director Gerard Gallucci, who received about $217,000.

Extra pay

Of the 22 people who were paid $200,000 or more for their work with the state last year, 14 were with the Delaware State Police or Department of Health and Social Services.

Seventy-three members of state police, 46 judges, 46 school district employees and 25 DHSS workers are among the 220 who broke $150,000.

A list of the top earners by regular salary is similar but not identical to the roll for overall pay, containing six of the employees in the overall top 10. Not included are Mr. Agbola and the three aforementioned state troopers.

Five people, three of whom worked for the Delaware Psychiatric Center, hit six figures in overtime.

“Overtime issues at Delaware Psychiatric Center are driven by a variety of factors,” DHSS spokeswoman Jill Fredel wrote in an email. “The facility does have a high staff vacancy rate — as high as 40 percent during the past year.

“In order to meet regulatory-required levels of staffing for the patients we serve that causes overtime usage among existing staff.

“A number of patients at DPC also require one-to-one staffing, which puts an additional demand on staffing levels.

“We are challenged in our recruitment efforts to reduce those vacancies because the state’s salaries are not competitive with comparable positions in the private or nonprofit health care sectors.”

The state spent about $73.6 million on overtime in 2018, up from $63.5 million the year prior.

Overtime allows individuals in certain professions to boost their salaries, as long as they don’t mind longer and more hours. Police and correctional officers in particular see monetary benefits: Of the 135 people who made $50,000 or more in overtime last year, 121 were troopers or COs. Another 11 worked for DHSS, with 10 employed at the psychiatric center.

Ekeoma Wogu, a nurse at the center, has ranked in the top three in overtime pay in each of the last four years, with at least $122,000 every year. With those OT hours, she’s been able to consistently triple her base salary.

Vacation time and sick leave do count toward overtime as hours worked, according to Ms. Fredel.

A spokesman for the state police said some troopers accept extra work — and the money that comes with it — from outside sources.

“The majority of the state police overtime is billed to vendors. Departmentally approved vendors may include; construction companies, retail businesses, schools and churches that contract troopers for special duty assignments during their off-duty hours,” Sgt. Richard Bratz wrote in an email.

“During their assignments troopers may conduct traffic escorts, direct traffic and provide security at sporting events at schools and businesses. Overtime may also include criminal and traffic investigations, staffing and special and critical incidents.

“Troopers are limited to a set number of hours weekly for off-duty jobs and work on a volunteer basis within divisional policy. All outside work is closely monitored by the state police leadership to ensure that well-rested troopers are on the road and are fit for duty.”

Sgt. Bratz did not answer further questions about the three troopers in the top 10 and their duties.

Overtime has been an issue for years among correctional officers, with some alleging the state intentionally keeps positions vacant and eats overtime costs rather than fill spots. Some correctional officers are “frozen,” meaning they are forced to work overtime after already working a full shift.

The Department of Correction had 198 open spots and an 11 percent vacancy rate as of Friday, per an agency spokeswoman. It spent $22 million on overtime in 2017.

Two police officers, Sgt. Weaver and Bernard Miller, broke $100,000 in “other” pay last year.

Elected officials

The highest-paid elected official was Gov. John Carney, who came up just a few cents shy of $171,000. Delaware’s chief executive is one of the 10 highest-paid in the country.

Members of Congress are being paid $174,000 this year, although their salaries come from the federal government.

In the current fiscal year (which begins July 1 and ends June 30), Delaware’s other statewide elected officials all earn at least $81,000.

The lieutenant governor is paid $81,239, while the auditor and insurance commissioner get $111,667 and the treasurer receives $116,582.

The attorney general is being paid $148,893.

Tops among lawmakers in 2018 were House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, a Rehoboth Beach Democrat, and Senate President Pro Tempore David McBride, a Wilmington Manor Democrat.

Each was paid $73,441.22.

In this fiscal year, legislators have a base salary of $46,291 and also receive an expense account of $7,334.

About two-thirds of the General Assembly’s 62 members earn an additional bonus for serving in leadership roles or on select committees. Legislators can receive compensation for mileage as well.

The executive branch isn’t the only one with people making more than $150,000: Judges on the Supreme Court, Superior Court, Family Court, Court of Chancery and Court of Common Pleas all have salaries of at least $184,444 this fiscal year.

While judicial salaries can be difficult to compare from state to state because of differences in state courts, Delaware judges do earn above-average salaries.

According to the Delaware Department of Labor, the average state government employee made $15,600 in the third quarter of 2018, the most recent period with available data. Over a full year, that projects to $62,400.

In total, the state spent about $2.13 billion on personnel last calendar year.

The budget for the current fiscal year, which includes half of 2018, totals $4.27 billion.

Highest-paid state employees

What follows is a list of the 10 most well-compensated state employees in 2018. This count includes not just base salary but overtime and other forms of pay, such as accrued sick leave paid out on retirement.

1 — Delaware Technical Community College President Mark Brainard $266,540.54

2 — Delaware State Police patrol trooper Brian Mulvena $255,964.17

3 — Brandywine School District Superintendent Mark Holodick $245,534.68

4 — Chief Medical Examiner Gary Collins $244,015.52

5 — Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services medical director Richard Margolis $236,674.09

6 — Delaware State Police criminal investigation trooper David Weaver $227,010.02

7 — Assistant Medical Examiner Jennie Vershvovsky $224,379.22

8 — Delaware Psychiatric Center nurse Anthony Agbola $222,401.04

9 — Delaware State Police criminal investigation trooper Joseph McGrory $221,243.78

10 — Delaware Psychiatric Center Residency Program Director Gerard Gallucci $216,563.02

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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