Teachers who have received excess money in their paychecks were given an extra week to meet with Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) officials to determine how much they owe as a result of payroll overpayments.

The district has extended the deadline for teachers to meet with LAUSD officials until Monday, December 17th, to negotiate a repayment schedule for extra funds that some teachers have received due to a year-long payroll system controversy that has seen hundreds of district certificated personnel overpaid, underpaid and in some cases not paid at all.

“We have forgiven (overpayments) to about ten to 12 thousand certificated teachers who owed us $250 or less,” said school district superintendent David Brewer. “We have already recovered a lot of money from teachers who owed us between $250 and $450, because we can do that automatically through their paychecks.”

The district has asked those who owe $1,000 or more to schedule interviews to discuss reimbursing the district.

“These are the teachers who will have the biggest tax impact,” the superintendent explained. “So the rest of the teachers who owe smaller amounts of money will be the ones that we would shift off until next year, because the tax impact would not be as great.”

The district estimates that it has overpaid approximately $53 million to certificated personnel, which includes teachers, counselors, principals, nutritionists and nurses.

Officials of the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) union counter that educators have no real way of knowing if the district’s figures are correct, due to the fact that they are basing the numbers on the same payroll system that was responsible for calculating erroneous salary figures in the first place.

“We don’t know what is correct and what is incorrect, because the data comes from the same system that was inaccurately paying teachers,” said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers of Los Angeles. “Teachers are panicking over this.”

District educators feel that if they agree to make payments for salary that they did not receive or was questionable, that will in turn affect their tax situation in 2008.

Duffy said that teachers who feel that they are being asked to pay back an unfair or inaccurate amount of money have the option of challenging the district’s numbers.

“They can also file an amended tax form later for the proper amount,” he added.

Paul Duke, a physical education teacher at University High School in West Los Angeles who resides in Venice, is one of many teachers who are frustrated by the payroll controversy. Like many of his colleagues, Duke does not have any confidence in the district’s estimates regarding certificated personnel who district officials say owe money.

“How can they know how much a teacher owes if they’ve been overpaying us and underpaying us for months?” he asked.

Duke, who has not received a notice that he owes the school district any money, said that he had been underpaid for several months, and at one point received a large overpayment that was subsequently rescinded.

“As far as I know, I’m square with the district,” he said. “I don’t know any other industry where this would be tolerated.”

Union representatives say that many of this month’s paychecks seemed to be more accurate than in past months.

Duffy hopes that this is a sign of an improved payroll system that will finally allow certificated employees to receive an accurate check.

“We’re cautiously optimistic [about the payroll situation],” said the union president.

Unlike Duke, Fred Page did receive a notice that he owes the district money — $6,100. Page, who teaches math at Westchester High School, says he has been paid at less than his usual salary for months. His November paycheck did not include an allotment that he normally receives, and he received it only after he called and complained about the error.

Page had $5,300 taken out of his account, then was paid $5,700, and later paid the $6,100, which the district claims that he owes. “I don’t understand it, and I don’t think that the district does either,” he said.

“Every check is an adventure,” said the Westchester High math teacher. “Every month I think, ‘What adventure am I in for this time?'”

The payroll crisis, now in its 12th month, was caused by a malfunction in the software that processes the various types of payments that certificated employees are paid.

David Holmquist, the school district’s interim chief operating officer, told The Argonaut last month that the majority of the problems are in the process of being corrected.

“Ninety-two percent of all of the system defects have been addressed,” Holmquist said.

District officials have also hired computer consultants to oversee the ongoing system glitches, and hope to have all malfunctions eliminated by next month.

“Our target date has been to achieve stability in our payroll system by January,” said Holmquist.

Brewer recommended that teachers work with their own tax advisors regarding their respective tax situations.

The superintendent also stated that it was imperative that teachers come to their appointments in order to discuss their overpayments and begin to resolve the matter.

“We’ll help them all that we can, but they’ve got to come in,” he stressed.

Problems with payroll glitches are only one of many critical matters facing district officials and the union membership that will continue into next year.

UTLA is currently negotiating with the district for improved health benefits and safety considerations. But perhaps the most critical topic that both sides will confront is the union’s request for salary increases for teachers. According to the union, the district has not budgeted any money at all for raises for the upcoming fiscal year 2007/2008.

“We have been negotiating with (the union),” said Brewer. “Those negotiations are still ongoing.”

Duffy calls the discussions between the district and UTLA a “total disaster. The district wants to focus only on payroll issues, when there are various heath and safety issues that need to be addressed.”

Duffy was also critical of the district’s hiring of a team of public relations consultants last month to shore up the school district’s image, at a cost of $350,000.

“The best PR is to do things the right way, not to hire spin doctors,” he asserted.

Duke agrees. “What are the district’s true priorities — improving student achievement in the classroom or putting out a good image for the district?” he asked.

The union has held several protests at district headquarters near downtown Los Angeles on Beaudry Street on the 5th of each month, which is the date that certificated personnel are paid.

On December 6th, they held protests at both the Beaudry office and the Local District One office in the San Fernando Valley.