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Published June 07 2013

UND med school dominates list of highest-paid public employees in North Dakota

FARGO - North Dakota’s highest paid state employees don’t have to go far to find each other. Eight of the top 10 work in Grand Forks – six of them in the same building.

The University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences claimed a half-dozen of the top 10 highest-paid state employees from June 1, 2012, to May 31. That includes the No. 1 earner, Dr. Robert Sticca, the chairman, program director and professor in the department of surgery, who was paid $758,128 during the 12-month period.

The state Board of Higher Education’s recent buyout of North Dakota University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani’s contract may have raised some eyebrows for its $925,377 price tag for the remaining two years of his contract. But Shirvani wasn’t close to the highest-paid state employee during the 12-month period ending May 31, based on records provided by the state Human Resource Management Service and NDUS in response to an open records request by The Forum.

As an article on Deadspin.com pointed out last month, the highest-paid state employee in the majority of states is either a football coach or basketball coach. North Dakota was one of only 10 states in which the highest-paid employee wasn’t a coach – though it came close.

Dave Hakstol, head coach of UND’s perennially ranked Division I men’s hockey team, skated to the No. 2 spot on the list, with total compensation of $649,618. Dr. Joshua Wynne, the medical school’s dean and vice president for health affairs, ranked third at $580,623.

As UND spokesman Peter Johnson explained, the figures include more than just base salaries.

Hakstol’s base salary is $300,000. Much of his other compensation was earned through meeting some of the 16 performance goals spelled out in his contract, Johnson said. For instance, if the team earned a cumulative grade-point average of 3.0 or higher, Hakstol received a 2 percent salary increase. There was an 8 percent bonus for a Frozen Four appearance and a 20 percent bump worth $60,000 if his team wins a national title.

Other pay also is factored into the compensation of medical school employees.

About one-fifth of Wynne’s pay comes from clinical income earned through contracts the medical school has with outside health care systems, Johnson said. That pay isn’t appropriated by the state but is tallied as part of Wynne’s overall compensation because the money does flow through state coffers, he said.

Figures provided by the university system – which maintains its own salary records for employees of the system office and the state’s 11 public colleges and universities – encompassed base salary plus other types of compensation, including incentive payments based on performance goals and medical service payments, but not fringe benefits, according to Laura Glatt, the system’s vice chancellor for administrative affairs.

Craig Bohl, head coach of the North Dakota State University football program that’s coming off back-to-back national titles in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, was the first non-UND employee to land on the top 20 list, earning the No. 5 spot with $367,843.

He was followed by the first employee on the list not associated with higher education, Dr. Eduardo Yabut, a psychiatrist and medical director at the State Hospital in Jamestown, part of the Department of Human Services.

Of the top 20 highest-paid employees in state government, not including the university system, 16 of them work for DHS, nearly all of them psychiatrists at regional human service centers.

State Hospital Superintendent Alex Schweitzer, whose $194,371 in gross pay put him at 20th place on the non-university system list, said Yabut is responsible for the hospital’s medical and clinical programs. Dr. William Pryatel, who ranked 13th on the overall list at $311,774, serves as interim medical director when Yabut is away.

Because psychiatrists are medical doctors, “They’re paid like doctors are paid,” Schweitzer said.

He said psychiatry is an area with “big demand” right now, and the State Hospital must offer competitive salaries to attract and keep good psychiatrists.

“We don’t just compete in North Dakota. We compete in several states,” he said.

The Forum requested similar salary information from the state of Minnesota and its higher education system in an open records request on Wednesday, but officials couldn’t provide that data by Friday.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528