Education Opinion

First Pay Day!

By Roslyn Johnson Smith, Ph.D. — October 03, 2007 2 min read
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This story has a happy ending, but it didn’t look like that would be the case for awhile.

Our teachers started working on July 30, 2007 in a 10-day professional development activity centered upon preparing for the opening of school. They were paid up to $1,000--$100 per day to decorate their rooms, cart textbooks and manipulatives up the stairs (we don’t have an elevator in our 3-story building), and attend academic meetings. In the past, teachers were expected to come to school days in advance to prepare classrooms and they were never paid for their time. Our charter school board wanted to be one of the first schools to pay teachers something for the 2007 – 08 session, even though the amount was far less than their regular checks would be. The faculty members were grateful for the consideration and the “baby checks” after being without salaries for the months of July and, in some cases, June. They also know that one of our goals is to make them some of the highest paid teachers in the state.

August 31st was our school’s first regular pay day. Many of our teachers previously worked for the New Orleans Public Schools (NOPS) where we had chronic problems getting paychecks on time, with the correct amount of money, or with the right deductions. It is a history that still creates tension for teachers who wait anxiously for their first paycheck each year. Our Board of Directors was determined that these teachers would be paid on time with the correct amounts. We tried to make sure no one went home disappointed that first pay day. We had all of their salary information. How hard can it be?

I was very pleased to hear from the Business Manager that our payroll vendor had deposited each teacher’s money into her or his bank account by Thursday, August 30. The checks would post on Friday as scheduled. That was the good news. Later, I learned that the payroll vendor had recently changed banks. Their new bank reported that the teachers’ checks would not clear until the next business day—not Saturday—not Sunday—not Monday, because it was the LABOR DAY weekend! I was worried sick about the possibility of teachers writing checks in advance and the rubber we would bounce all over the city, if the funds for our first payroll were not processed and available for our staff. Was this payroll fiasco part of a New Orleans school voodoo curse?

We called the teachers in to explain the situation and most of them took the information in stride. When several teachers checked their bank accounts on-line and saw that their paychecks were posted, we saw smiles. Actually, they were so happy with their salary increases that no one was upset about the possible delay in the bank’s schedule. Although the money wasn’t immediately available, at least it was posted in their accounts as promised.

Later that evening, we discovered that the payroll company had calculated the teacher pay based upon a 40-hour week instead of the 35-hour week we stipulated. Every teacher had been underpaid! Only one teacher realized she was due more money that her check receipt showed. We didn’t dare tell them that all of our checks were wrong. I don’t think this ever happened even on the worst pay days with NOPS.

In case you are wondering how this story could have a happy ending, I must add that the teachers received a supplemental check for the difference when they returned to school after the Labor Day holiday. You would have sworn that the Tooth Fairy had visited as cries of “Mo’Money” and “Cha-Ching” could be heard all over the building.

The opinions expressed in Starting Over: A Post-Katrina Education are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.