D.C. Public Schools officials will examine payroll records at more than 100 facilities to determine if there is widespread impropriety in the way employes record and get paid for the hours they have worked.
The investigation, designed to determine if people are properly being paid or credited for time worked, was launched last Monday by Rung K. Pham, controller at the D.C. Schools Office of Management Services, Division of Finance.
In a Sept. 10 memorandum to Deputy Schools Superintendent Andrew E. Jenkins, Pham outlined his plans for a review of timekeeping operations, which he said is necessary because of "the inordinate increase of fraud."
Pham, in the memo and in an interview, cited recent instances in which he alleged that two school principals authorized falsifying payroll records.
One principal, Percy Ellis of Shaw Junior High School, was suspended without pay for three days in July. Ellis denies the allegations and has filed an appeal with school officials. In the second case, Pham has recommended disciplinary action against Coolidge High School Principal James E. Campbell. Campbell, too, says he acted properly. No decision has been made on Pham's recommendation. Jenkins will decide what, if any, action to take.
In addition to those matters, Pham said that during the past two years school accountants have investigated 10 timekeeping clerks to determine if they had falsified documents. Pham said that $25,000 in payroll funds was involved. In most cases, investigators concluded that the clerks did not work the hours for which they were paid, Pham said. The clerks resigned after the investigations, he said. Pham said no other action was taken.
Schools Superintendent Floretta McKenzie said that payroll fraud "has not been a wholesale problem" in the school system in recent years. She estimated that the money involved is well below 1 percent of the schools budget, which was $258 million in 1983-84. But, she added: "Audits keep things honest."
Following an investigation at Shaw, at 10th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW, earlier this year, Pham charged that during the 1981-82 school year Ellis had improperly authorized about 30 days of administrative leave for an unidentified teacher on his staff. Ellis, a 30-year veteran of the school system and unsuccessful candidate for the Ward 5 seat on the D.C. Board of Education last year, was suspended by school officials for three days without pay last July.
Ellis, who has filed an appeal with the school system's labor relations board, told a reporter: "I felt that what I had done was proper and legal, otherwise I would not have done it."
In his Sept. 10 memorandum to Jenkins, Pham charged that Campbell ordered a timekeeping clerk to give an attendance officer credit for hours that were not accounted for on timekeeping documents. Pham recommended that Campbell, who has worked for the D.C. school system for 14 years, either resign or be suspended for 45 days.
Pham would not discuss what triggered the investigation involving Ellis. In the Sept. 10 memorandum, Pham indicated that Jenkins had requested the investigation into Coolidge's "timekeeping practices." Jenkins would not comment on the matter.
Coolidge timekeeper Leland Pinkett and attendance officer Arlene McCoy also were recommended for disciplinary action, according to Pham's report. Pham advised that Pinkett be reprimanded "for certifying time incorrect under duress and failing to report to the appropriate authority."
He advised that McCoy be ordered to reimburse the government $1,061.40, that her sick leave be recalculated, and that she be given a 30-day suspension or be terminated.
Pinkett and McCoy deny any wrongdoing. The unidentified teacher at Shaw, who officials said lost about 30 hours of annual leave as a result of the investigation, could not be reached for comment.
Campbell, whose case has not yet been officially completed, offered an explanation for what he called "unusual, but not fraudulent" timekeeping practices at Coolidge.
"Coolidge won an award last year for the most improved attendance record among students because of the efforts of Mrs. McCoy, who was our attendance officer last year," Campbell said. "Mrs. McCoy worked many hours at night, contacting parents of truant students at home. But, since Mrs. McCoy gets paid for regular daytime hours, we would simply credit her for working regular hours at the end of a pay period. She was never paid for days she didn't work. In fact she has worked so many extra duty hours it would make your head spin."
"We try to get a job done here at Coolidge and we do it the best we can," Campbell added.
The systemwide investigation, which began last Monday, the first day of the new fiscal year, is being conducted in two parts, according to James Brown, director of the D.C. Schools Office of Management Services. An accountant and several payroll technicians from the division of finance have been assigned to make unannounced visits to two schools or administrative buildings each week and compare timekeeping records at those facilities against payroll documents maintained at school system headquarters.
When inconsistencies are found, a team of auditors from the division of management planning and analysis will be called in to complete the investigation, Brown said. The audit team also will investigate timekeeping records in more than a dozen offices and divisions at D.C. schools headquarters at 415 12th Street NW, they said.
According to Brown, every day that an employe works the employe must record on "sign in/sign out" time sheets the exact time he or she entered the office. When an employe leaves, the time is marked again. At the end of each two-week pay period, which typically consists of 10 working days or 80 hours, timekeepers must transfer the information from time sheets to official timecards, which are certifed by supervisors. The cards then are sent to the finance division payroll office, where copies are entered in a master file, and similar documents are sent to the D.C. Office of Finance, which processes payroll checks.
In a memorandum to officials earlier this year, Pham said that the school system, which employs more than 15,000 persons, had been notified by the D.C. Office of Pay and Retirement that its timekeeping practices were not in compliance with the regulations, which require that the supervisor's signature be affixed to the time and attendance reports to certify their accuracy.
A policy recently was put into effect to bring timekeeping practices in the school system in conformance with those of other government agencies, Pham said. As part of the systemwide investigation, he said, "we will go to each school and make sure the policy is being enforced."