What started out as a worrisome computer glitch has rapidly escalated into a drawn-out financial predicament for many teachers in the Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD), say officials at United Teachers of Los Angeles.
The leadership of the 45,000-member union, which represents teachers and classified personnel in the Los Angeles Unified School District, is outraged that many of its certificated personnel (teachers, nutritionists, nurses, etc.) have not received the entire sum of their paychecks since spring, and in many cases, some have been overpaid and subsequently charged for more than the amount of the overpayment due to information systems errors.
District officials say they have begun to rectify the computer system glitch, but United Teachers of Los Angeles union (UTLA) members and other concerned parties remain unconvinced.
Westchester-Playa del Rey Education Foundation president Kelly Kane said that she was aware of teachers in the Westchester and Playa del Rey schools who were suffering financial hardship because of the payroll system controversy.
“There are teachers who are on the verge of losing their homes because of this,” Kane told The Argonaut. “Our teachers are already underpaid as it is, and now this happens?
“I find this absolutely unacceptable.”
Fred Page, who teaches math at Westchester High School, says that his paycheck has not been accurate since December.
“The district claims that the situation is getting better, but it isn’t,” Page said during a telephone interview. “There are still many issues that have not been [resolved]. I haven’t had a paycheck that’s been right since December.”
School board member Marlene Canter is hopeful that the problems with payroll will soon be resolved.
“We’re on our way to fixing the problems,” Canter predicted.
LAUSD superintendent David Brewer recently hired four new employees, including chief information officer Anthony Tortorice, who previously worked in the Los Angeles Community College District and who will be taking an active role in finding a solution to the ongoing payroll dilemma.
Kane, who runs a computer consultant business, says that this computer mix-up should have been taken care of in the early stages of the process.
“After the first month, this system should have been replaced,” Kane asserted.
Canter said that there are a number of systemic problems in the way that certified personnel is paid that may inadvertently contribute to the problems in teachers not being paid properly.
“For one thing, we recently switched from paying our certified staff from 13 times a year to 12,” Canter explained. “There are other things as well.
“It’s a very complicated system.”
In addition to bringing Tortorice on board, an independent monitor has also been hired. “From our perspective, this will serve as a check and balance,” said Canter.
The union has filed a grievance and a lawsuit against the district, boycotted faculty meetings and proposed legislation to prevent this from occurring again.
Kane, who is spearheading a movement in Westchester and Playa del Rey to bring reform to the area’s schools and improve student performance through autonomy, believes that the payroll controversy is symptomatic of what has been going wrong in the district for several years.
“This is another result of the great bureaucracy that cannot see the individual,” Kane said. If Westchester schools had autonomy, “We would be able to deal with smaller, individual issues,” she added.
“We’ve been very aware of the problems,” said Canter. “The board is receiving weekly updates and we are very much on top of this issue.”
Despite the district’s assurances that the system is being repaired, Kane was adamant that this could have been avoided.
“Teachers not getting paid accurately should have been a priority seven months ago,” she said.
Kane says the Westchester-Playa del Rey Education Foundation organization is planning to create a teachers loan fund, in its continuing efforts to assist educators in and out of the classroom. The organization will host a fund-raiser in early November to raise money for this venture.
“We entrust our teachers with our most precious gifts — our children,” she said. “When we have teachers who are struggling with mortgages, who have not been paid, I find that truly despicable.”
Page, the Westchester math teacher, is astounded that the payroll crisis is still ongoing.
“I’m amazed that no one is doing anything about this,” he lamented.
Canter said she hopes the problem with the computer error will be fixed in the next couple of months.
Calls to A.J Duffy, president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles union, had not been returned as The Argonaut went to press.