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Published in Print: October 24, 2007, as Heat on L.A. Schools To Fix Payroll Errors Still Riling Teachers

Heat on L.A. Schools to Fix Payroll Errors Still Riling Teachers

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The Los Angeles school district is still under fire for its difficulties in paying teachers accurately, after thousands of teachers were overpaid or underpaid for the first two months of the 2007-08 school year.

But district officials believe the school year’s third payroll, on Nov. 5, will have far fewer problems, if the latest fix to the computerized payroll system works. Those modifications are to be tested Oct. 27.

The payroll problem began last January, with the launch of a new, corporate-style system to handle the payroll for the district’s 110,000 full- and part-time employees. It became a public spectacle on June 5, when more than 32,000 district employees received incorrect pay statements. ("Glitches in Los Angeles Payroll System Spark Furor," June 20, 2007.)

After trying to work out the kinks over the summer, officials of the 708,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District admit the problems will likely continue until the end of 2007. They have attributed the errors to hasty implementation of the system, software glitches, and inadequate training of pay clerks at schools.

On Oct. 5, the latest monthly payday, 6,239 certified employees received wrong pay amounts because of software glitches, said David Holmquist, the district’s interim chief operating officer, in an interview last week.

But for the first time since the problem began, Mr. Holmquist said, all of the mistakes due to system errors were overpayments, with no underpayments. He noted that underpayments did occur for other reasons, such as late filings by school-based pay clerks.

New Expert Hired

Superintendent David L. Brewer III has said further improvements, based on simplifications of the district’s complex teacher-pay structure, can be made by next July.

But the local teachers’ union, United Teachers Los Angeles, sees that timeline as unacceptable.

On Oct. 11, Mr. Brewer appointed Anthony Tortorice to be the district’s chief information officer. Mr. Tortorice served as chief information office for the region’s Los Angeles Community College District, which consists of nine colleges with about 5,000 full- and part-time employees, according to the school district.

“Notably, Tortorice led the successful implementation of a human-resources payroll system using the same technology as LAUSD’s new payroll system,” the district said in a statement. “Tortorice’s expertise in developing and implementing this technology will be a great asset as the district seeks to stabilize its payroll system by the end of 2007.”

And last month, the district hired EPI-USE America Inc., an Atlanta-based company that specializes in the brand of software used in the new system, under a one-year contract of up to $9.8 million.

The payroll problem has become a cloud over Mr. Brewer’s tenure in Los Angeles, even though the system was selected and developed under his predecessor, Roy Romer.

Salary overpayments, which must be repaid to the district, disrupt teachers’ lives, said Marla Eby, a spokeswoman for United Teachers Los Angeles, an affiliate of the both American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. And all teachers have suffered from the uncertainty over whether their next pay deposits will be correct, she said.

“Teachers used to look forward to payday; now they dread it,” Ms. Eby said.

The union has kept up a drumbeat of criticism about the problems since January and has used a smattering of tactics to pressure the district, including boycotts of faculty meetings, a short-lived lawsuit, and leafleting.

In a protest dubbed “Camp Beaudry,” seven union officials camped out for three days starting Oct. 5, the latest payday, and tended to teachers as they went to and from the district headquarters on Beaudry Avenue to resolve errors in their pay statements, Ms. Eby said. “We gave them food; the district only gives them $3 food vouchers” for the headquarters’ cafeteria, she said.

In another tactic, which Ms. Eby said was not union-led, teachers have posted videos on the Internet service YouTube featuring teachers and their students testifying to the hardships engendered by the payroll problems. In one video presented by “Jill,” evidently a teacher, a 4th grader named Ricardo says that if the problem is not solved soon, his former 1st grade teacher will “be in the street, no clothes, no food, no rent”; he asks viewers to contact Mr. Brewer.

Companies’ Role

Union officials have spotlighted the two companies behind the payroll system—SAP AG, a German company, which created the software, and Deloitte Consulting LLP, based in New York City, which customized it for the district—and said they have not been held to account for their roles.

Mr. Holmquist declined comment on the two companies except to say that an ongoing district investigation includes an examination of their roles and whether the software was appropriately chosen and effectively tailored to the district’s needs.

He said the district aims to have errors “below 1 percent of any given payroll” by the end of 2007.

PHOTO: Teacher Daniel Barnhart speaks outside the Los Angeles school district’s headquarters as part of a Sept. 25 demonstration staged by United Teachers Los Angeles to protest errors in employees’ paychecks that have persisted since January’s launch of new computer software for payroll.
—Richard Lui/AP

Vol. 27, Issue 09, Page 7

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