For the Chicago public schools, keeping the books on its employees will soon be raised to a new level. With a new, $3 million timekeeping system, officials expect to cut the number of costly adjustments that have to be made because of payroll mistakes, provide more information to managers, and reduce the number of “tardies” and overlong coffee breaks.
Michael Edwards, the director of payroll and accounts payable for the school system, estimates that the change will recoup $2.6 million annually in staff time or payroll savings.
And it will make some tasks far easier, he said. For example, the new computer system will help the substitute teacher who works in five different schools in one week get the right pay. It will allow a supervisor to track a worker suspected of coming late to work every Monday. For a principal laboring over next year’s budget, a few clicks will bring up the school’s payroll expenditures for the staff of a specific program.
“We’re trying to make sure our employees are accurate,” said Mr. Edwards, who estimated the savings by using a figure of 15 minutes lost each day by each employee at the rate of $5 per hour. A 1994 study for the American Payroll Association concluded that employees skip an average of 15 productive minutes daily, deliberately or inadvertently.
The 421,000-student district, the nation’s third-largest, employs about 46,000 people. Roughly one in five works in more than a single school, making accurate timekeeping more difficult and more subject to fraud or error, Mr. Edwards noted.
The new system, designed by Kronos Inc. of Waltham, Mass., is expected to be fully installed by the coming school year. It will use Microsoft Windows software and high-speed computers connected to a central payroll server by a network. Currently, the system consists of “600 individualized databases” on a single stand-alone computer at each school, Mr. Edwards said. “If that one PC fails, that school is out of the water,” he added.
When the district introduced its first computerized system in1992, it cut timekeeping mistakes from some 40,000 a year to about 22,000. The updated system will also be able to archive two years of timekeeping information rather than the current two weeks.
Employees will continue to swipe an ID card through a machine to record their arrivals and departures.
Mr. Edwards said the new system should hardly cause a stir, unlike the replacement of pen-and-paper recording with computers. “When we first introduced that, we took a lot of heat,” he said. “Some said we were treating them like factory workers, but the system provides a lot more accountability.”
Now, he said, using the computerized system “is second nature.”
Jackie Gallagher, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Teachers Union, an American Federation of Teachers affiliate, said there were training and other problems with the original computerized system. “But,” she added, “over the years the problems have been solved ... so at this point we as a union don’t have any objection” to the update.
Only about 100 other districts have a similar Kronos-designed system, according to Steve Flieder, the vice president of Kronos’ government division. Most school systems still use a timekeeping system that relies on paper records. The hazards of a paper approach were driven home in the Dallas public schools in 1997, when doctored time sheets led to the conviction of more than a dozen maintenance-department employees.
A version of this article appeared in the February 03, 1999 edition of Education Week as New Tracking SystemAims To Help Chicago Manage Payroll Costs