March 16, 2018 at 7:08 PM
Four Prince George’s County school system employees who were given raises improperly will revert to their correct pay level, but no one will be forced to repay the money spent on the raises, officials said Friday.
Officials in Maryland’s second-largest school system estimated the undue raises cost the system $28,000 over eight months. The number came to light as school officials sought to quell a controversy that started last week with allegations that several central-office employees were granted pay hikes outside of negotiated labor agreements.
On Thursday, school district officials released an 11-page internal audit examining a string of raises in the system’s Human Resources Division.
The document showed one employee who was earning about $95,000 a year received a 12 percent hike, resulting in an increase of more than $11,000. Another got a boost of nearly $7,900, resulting in a salary of more than $75,300.
Two other employees drew raises they did not merit, according to the report, which looked at claims against eight human resources employees. Allegations of improper activity regarding the other four employees did not bear out. The investigation was conducted after school officials received hotline complaints from anonymous callers.
The report, dated Feb. 12, was highly redacted and did not include information about who authorized the increases. John White, a school district spokesman, described that person as a former human resources official.
The pay scandal is the latest controversy in the Prince George’s school system, which has been rocked by allegations of fraud in graduation rates. Recently, the State Board of Education assigned a full-time employee to monitor efforts to fix problems uncovered in the diploma scandal.
In a letter to employees, Kevin M. Maxwell, the county school system’s chief executive, acknowledged this week that the human resources workers received raises that fell outside of contractual provisions.
“These raises were unjustifiable and should not have happened,” he said. “We will correct this error.” He noted that the school board has asked for a review of all human resources employees’ pay to ensure any increases were properly awarded.
“Safeguards have been put in place to require proper justification and approval for all pay increases regardless of position,” he added.
Members of the county school board’s minority bloc raised the issue last week in a letter to Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), saying the improper pay raises came even as the board’s majority turned down a minority bloc proposal that would have boosted teacher pay.
The letter called on Baker, who is running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Maryland, to take immediate action. Baker’s office said last week that the letter would be reviewed, offering little other comment.
Asked for elaboration this week, Scott Peterson, a Baker spokesman, noted that the school board is handling the matter, which he said was already under investigation when it was brought to public attention.
“The county executive is confident that the board will take the appropriate actions once the full investigation is complete,” Peterson said.
As the issue has stirred debate in Prince George’s, concerns have extended beyond the Human Resources Division.
The minority bloc’s letter also drew attention to allegations that improper raises were given to employees who report to a deputy superintendent’s office. An internal audit addressing that issue is underway, district officials said.
A third flash point was Maxwell’s decision to give increases to some of his leadership team.
In his letter, Maxwell acknowledged giving some subordinates raises. “These pay increases were commensurate with either additional responsibilities or shifting roles due to vacancies at the cabinet level,” he wrote, saying he asked for a salary review of executive positions.
“I understand that matters related to salaries are highly sensitive, especially in our school system where, for years, salaries were frozen due to economic realities,” he said.
Edward Burroughs III, a member of the school board’s minority bloc, said the money spent on the raises for the human resources workers should be repaid by whoever signed off on the unauthorized increases. “If you did something you were not supposed to do, you have to pay it back,” he said.
“The workforce is tired of scandal after scandal with no accountability,” Burroughs said.
School board member Raaheela Ahmed, another member of the minority bloc, said the pay raises add to community distrust and perceptions of favoritism.
“Folks are outraged, folks are upset,” she said. “A lot of folks are working really hard in the system, and they deserve to have more than what they’ve got, and it’s just unfair.”
School officials have pointed out the system has funded employee raises in recent years. Maxwell said in his letter that the system and bargaining units representing employees had successfully negotiated salary increases each year since 2013.
Last year, the school system approved a two-year contract for teachers that provided two raises of about 3 percent each for eligible employees, district officials said.
Union leaders have said teachers in Prince George’s lag behind other jurisdictions.
In recent weeks, the union’s board and representative assembly voted to show no confidence in the structure of the school system, which allows the county executive to appoint the school board’s chairman and vice chairman, as well as the chief executive of the school district.