Hundreds of Students Say They Weren't Paid

By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 23, 2008; B02

Samantha Baskin gets paid to be patient. One of thousands of students across the District who had pay problems in the summer youth jobs program last week, Samantha, 14, said that she doesn't actually do anything at the Washington East of the River Academy.

"We don't do nothing," she said. The director "holds us in a room for hours."

Although she was owed several hundred dollars, Samantha was paid a nickel Friday and was finally paid in full yesterday.

Dan Tangherlini, the city administrator, said all students should have received their pay by the end of the day yesterday. He estimated that about half of the 19,000 students signed up for the program had been affected.

Pay problems are just one of the administrative issues in the D.C. summer youth jobs program, as was apparent at a news conference yesterday at the academy.

D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who has been critical of the missteps, held the conference.

At least 200 of the 800 students in the academy indicated by a show of hands that they had not received their proper pay. In interviews, many students echoed Samantha's complaint, saying they were spending their days sitting silently in classrooms.

Dianna Robinson, the summer academy director, said students were stuck in the auditorium for the first two weeks because proper permissions for the site -- the P.R. Harris Elementary School -- had not been secured from the school system. She said programs in the next two weeks had been delayed because she was registering more than 500 students not on the payroll.

Students are supposed to be doing arts programs, such as jewelry-making, painting and singing in a choir, Robinson said, as well as learning such "life skills" as job readiness.

Just yesterday, Robinson said, she had received an e-mail from the District's Department of Employment Services asking her to accept 200 more students -- halfway through the program. She declined.

Robinson said she was excited about the remaining 4 1/2 weeks, now that everyone has been registered. But she did not think the first month had been a waste.

"Some of these 14-year-olds are the only ones earning a salary in a three-generation household," Robinson said. "If that means sitting in a hot auditorium, then I'm okay with that."

Barry also said he was sorry that so much time had been spent on administrative issues but said "it had to be done for the good of the kids." As to whether the academy was really a "jobs" program, he said that "with the 14- and 15-year-olds, we have no problem paying them to learn."

He said computer glitches in the DOES payroll computers led to students being paid even if they didn't show up. That, in turn, made running the program even more difficult, Barry said.

"If the kid's going to get paid anyway, that destroys discipline," he said.

Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), who chairs the committee that oversees the summer jobs program, called the administrative issues "a debacle in many ways."

"For young people to work and then not get paid is unconscionable," she said. "And then for individuals not to be working and to get paid is also unconscionable."

Barry and Schwartz are calling on the District inspector general to audit the summer jobs program as soon as possible. Schwartz said she would schedule an oversight hearing for September, when the council returns from recess.

In the short term, officials at the jobs program are working to make sure that the problems do not resurface the next time payday rolls around, Tangherlini said.

"We're still pulling apart what happened," he said. Officials think it was a mixture of computer glitches and human error, he said, and the Office of the Chief Technology Officer began analyzing the payroll system yesterday.

Tangherlini said he had not heard about the issues at the academy.

But, he said, "what we're doing is going around and looking at sites where there have been problems."

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