Payroll Snarls Cause Anger, Frustration In Several Urban Districts

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Nearly two months into the school year, some big-city districts are still working out kinks in their payroll systems that have caused embarrassing and frustrating problems. In some cases, hundreds of teachers have not been paid correctly or on time; in others, checks have gone to dead people.

Philadelphia administrators told the school board last week they have made payroll adjustments going back as far as the summer for more than 3,000 employees.

Philadelphia administrators told the school board last week they have made payroll adjustments going back as far as the summer for more than 3,000 employees. Meanwhile, more than 900 District of Columbia school employees were asked to pick up their checks in person last month because of payroll problems there.

And Detroit officials were scrambling to figure out why more than 300 employees were paid late or not at all last month.

Officials in each city say that new computer systems installed to replace antiquated ones, combined with human error, are behind the problems, which they say should be overcome soon.

News reports in Philadelphia last month about the payroll mishaps prompted a rash of finger-pointing before top school executives called a news briefing to do some damage control.

"We know that there is a personal impact when you don't get a paycheck," Philadelphia Superintendent David W. Hornbeck told local reporters. "My goal is to eliminate those errors down the road and correct the current payroll errors even faster."

District officials verified that at least $335,000 had been paid to individuals who no longer work for the 215,000-student system, and that checks had gone out in the names of at least 14 former employees who are dead. They added that the mistakes amounted to only a tiny percentage of the 30,000 people on the payroll.

Still, the mistakes did not reflect well on the city's new $26 million computer system, which was phased in over the past year and a half to avoid problems in the city's payroll, finance, and personnel systems resulting from the Year 2000 computer bug.

Mr. Hornbeck said more training would be offered to employees using the new system, which some have criticized as being too cumbersome. He added that a center has been set up since the beginning of the school year to deal with individual concerns.

"I understand computer problems," said Ted Kirsch, the president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. "But what they've done is to publicly blame secretaries. That's ludicrous. It filters into the school and becomes a morale problem."

'A Mess'

Detroit's 174,00-student school system has also been hit with payroll headaches. The 300-plus teachers who were not paid or were underpaid last month make up the tip of the iceberg, according to union officials there.

"We have everything from people being paid wrong to not getting benefits, and sick days that should not be added," said John Elliott, the president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, an aft affiliate.

A district spokeswoman said the cause of the problem had not been identified, but that new record-keeping software was being looked at.

In the nation's capital, the hang-ups are due to a system run by the city government, school officials say.

Don Rickford, the chief financial officer for Washington's 77,000-student system, said 900 special checks had to be issued last month to pay personnel or to correct mispayments. And many of those people had to come to the central office to pick up the checks, causing long lines and disgruntled employees.

"Because teachers just can't come in throughout the day meant you'd have a surge around 4 p.m.," Mr. Rickford said. "That created some frustrations for people who have to wait in line."

Vol. 19, Issue 10, Page 5

Published in Print: November 3, 1999, as Payroll Snarls Cause Anger, Frustration In Several Urban Districts
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