A lawsuit filed by United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) against the Los Angeles Unified School District because of inaccurate payments to teachers last year has been settled, union officials reported Wednesday, March 5th.

The deal was struck more than a year after a district-wide payroll fiasco gripped certificated personnel, causing many financial hardships and hampering teacher morale.

“UTLA is pleased to achieve justice for our members on this issue,” said United Teachers of Los Angeles president A.J. Duffy. “We look forward to putting an end to disruptions caused by the payroll debacle.

“We are committed to moving forward with the district to improve the payroll system and fix any backlog of problems.”

The payroll controversy erupted in early 2007 when it was reported that thousands of certificated district personnel were not being paid accurately, were being paid more than their monthly salaries or were not being paid at all due to a computer malfunction in the payroll system. Teachers boycotted faculty meetings and joined union members in staging protests outside the district’s downtown headquarters in an effort to get L.A. Unified to address the computer crisis.

District officials subsequently hired an outside consultant to fix the glitches in the payroll system, which has been widely criticized by United Teachers of Los Angeles, the district’s largest teachers union, for its inability to properly process correct data. The original contractors, Deloitte & Touche, an audit, financial advisory and consulting firm, was hired almost two years ago to install the complex payroll system at a cost of $95 million.

The total bill for installation and to repair the computer system has been estimated at approximately $210 million.

Westchester High School mathematics teacher Fred Page suffered several months of incorrect paychecks, but recently his salary checks have been accurate, more or less, he says.

“I still have certain issues with my check, but they’ve been a lot better this year,” Page said.

“LAUSD is happy that teachers will no longer boycott staff meetings for payroll-related issues, which caused disruptions at some schools,” said L.A. Unified communications manager Ellen Morgan in a statement. “Teachers can now focus on educating LAUSD’s children.”

The agreement provides United Teachers of Los Angeles and its members with:

… an eight percent interest for six months on underpayments to approximately 6,700 United Teachers of Los Angeles members who were underpaid;

… no reprisals by the district against union members who boycotted faculty meetings;

… reimbursement to the union of expenses incurred to help members resolve payroll problems; and

… an agreement to drop the district’s unfair labor practices charge against the union.

The first provision is important, said Duffy, because although most educators are now being paid on time and accurately, some still find themselves in challenging financial circumstances.

“People who were underpaid are still having a hard time paying their bills,” the union president pointed out.

Larry Rubin, who teaches computer science at Orville Wright Middle School in Westchester, knows colleagues who have been on the brink of financial crisis.

“Many teachers’ lives have been messed up by this [payroll controversy],” he said.

Union officials have also met with representatives of the State Franchise Tax Board and the Internal Revenue Service to seek advice for educators who may have problems with their state and federal taxes.

Page will be meeting with his accountant soon to determine if his tax situation will be compromised due to the inaccuracies reported on his tax forms and what he has actually received in salary.

“I’m ready to put this behind me and move on,” he said.

Duffy said that the union would also work with L.A. Unified to assist employees in repairing their credit status if they can prove that it has been damaged, but he emphasized that the onus would be on the employee to provide the evidence.

“People are going to have to clearly show that their credit rating has been damaged,” he stressed. “We want to make sure that LAUSD owns up to its responsibility to those teachers whose credit might have been hurt.”

As a result of the controversy with the payment system, Assistant Assembly Majority Leader Kevin de LeÛn introduced Assembly Bill (AB) 730 in January, which would prohibit contractors from bidding on public contracts for a period of five years if they are found to have violated an information technology contract with another public entity.

AB 730 passed the Assembly Business and Professions Committee January 15th and its Appropriations Committee on January 23rd. The bill arrived at the full Assembly January 29th, where it was approved by a vote of 49-29.

“The Assembly has sent a clear message to unscrupulous information technology vendors: walk away from your commitments to taxpayers and you will be punished,” stated de LeÛn. “Too many vendors are intentionally underbidding contracts with the intent of substantially increasing the costs at the back end of the project, leaving taxpayers holding the bag.

“We shouldn’t be rewarding those vendors with additional government contracts.”

Rubin is aware of the legislation and is hoping that it eventually becomes law.

“I hope that it passes the Senate as well,” said Rubin, who was one of hundreds of teachers who were asked to reimburse the district for overpayments in their checks. “This whole thing has been so outrageous.”

Due to the payroll debacle, L.A. Unified was assessed a substantial financial penalty by the state last year for submitting incorrect records to the California State Teachers Retirement System, the nation’s third largest teachers pension fund.

“As of October 31st, LAUSD had been fined over $328,000,” Ricardo Dur·n, a media officer with the pension fund, told The Argonaut.

Dur·n said that L.A. Unified has since sent in updated teacher payroll information to the retirement fund and union members’ benefits would not be affected.

“We have been able to ascertain that the information that LAUSD has provided is accurate,” he said.

Duffy, who traveled to Sacramento to support AB 730 in January, says that despite the settlement with the district, de LeÛn’s proposed legislation is still necessary.

“Absolutely,” he answered when asked if he would continue to back AB 730. “We want to make sure that doesn’t happen again in any school district, not just LAUSD.”

The union president, who was recently reelected to another term, believes that the spotlight that was cast on L.A. Unified during the payroll crisis has forced district officials to address the situation.

“The media attention has probably sent a message to them and to contractors like Deloitte & Touche,” said Duffy. “And that message is to make sure that the systems and the consultants that you use can deliver what they promise, or there will be consequences.”