D.C. school officials are bracing for widespread payroll problems for the second pay period in a row since a new citywide computer system started operating, leaving teachers and other staff members frustrated and anxious about when they will get their checks.
About one in 10 school employees received a check for the wrong amount or none at all two weeks ago when the first checks were distributed under the new system. Many called or lined up at downtown city payroll offices during work hours and on their own time, waiting, sometimes in vain, for correct checks to be issued.
"Had I known that it was going to be this bad, I would not have signed a contract with D.C. public schools," said Janette Haynes, a newly hired teacher of English as a Second Language who received too little pay in her first two checks and no check at all Oct. 15. At 5:30 p.m yesterday, she was called at home and told that her check for Oct. 15 had been issued--but that she would have to return downtown by 8 p.m. to pick it up.
"It's so discouraging," Haynes said. "You start the year with such big hopes and big dreams. . . . It's so deflating."
School officials yesterday faxed each school a list of checks that will be issued to teachers Monday and asked to be notified by fax of any errors or omissions. About 100 mistakes were logged by 5 p.m.
Corrected checks will be issued within 24 hours, said Deputy Superintendent Elois Brooks. The checks will be available at the school system's payroll office from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. tomorrow or will be delivered to schools during the week, Brooks said.
Officials arranged the special weekend pickups to reduce the number of teachers without pay and to stop teachers from going downtown during class time. Teacher absences related to the paycheck problems have angered Superintendent Arlene Ackerman.
Brooks attributed the problems to the new centralized payroll system. School officials did not want to use the new computer system, but it was adopted citywide by the D.C. government.
Terry Carnahan, the city's director of financial systems implementation, said he hopes to cut the number of wrong or missing schools paychecks from 1,000 issued two weeks ago to 400 or 500 this pay period. About 6,000 educators are to be paid Monday, and 4,000 to 5,000 administrators and support staff members are to receive their next checks Nov. 5.
Carnahan attributed the problems to a combination of normal start-up difficulties and years of poor record-keeping by the school system, which usually has to reissue at least 400 checks per pay period.
"Quite frankly, the old system just didn't have good data in it," Carnahan said, "so it required a lot of manual effort to go through and just correct as much as possible."
Poor record-keeping also has caused many teachers to be paid too little because they haven't been credited properly for their experience or education level.
"Garbage in, garbage out," said Washington Teachers' Union President Barbara Bullock. "It's a hardship. . . . You expect for me to give you a full day's work, then I expect to get my full paycheck."
Carnahan said the city needed to implement the new payroll system because the old one was in danger of crashing next year. He said other agencies have had fewer problems than the school system, although fire department employees had similar difficulties getting paid.
School officials asked why the problems weren't worked out in advance. And D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), a member of the education committee, called the missing and incorrect paychecks "a crisis situation" that school and city employees must work to resolve immediately. It's not just a computer problem, she said.