Taking their collective displeasure directly to the source of their discontent, dozens of officers from the Los Angeles Unified School District’s largest teachers union descended upon the district’s headquarters near downtown Los Angeles, Monday, November 5th, to protest the continuing computer malfunction that has resulted in inaccurate teacher paychecks for several months.
Officers from United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) rented a large recreational vehicle and parked it across the street from the district’s Beaudry Street office in a show of support for the teachers, who were hoping to see the computer glitch corrected immediately.
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) pays its faculty and classified staff members on the fifth of each month.
The malfunction has resulted in overpayments, educators receiving less money and in some cases, non-payment. Certificated personnel — teachers and specialists — are the district employees who have been most affected. Classified (non-certifi- cated) personnel have largely been unaffected by the malfunction.
The computer glitch, which many teachers say has caused them great financial hardship due to severe reductions in their paychecks, is on the way to being corrected, say district officials.
“I am happy to report that we have succeeded in correcting a major defect with our payroll system,” LAUSD Supt. David L. Brewer wrote in a letter mailed to employees on Friday, November 2nd.
“Ninety-two percent of all of the system defects have been addressed,” said David Holmquist, the interim chief operating officer of the school district.
“We’re seeing just as many people in the payroll center who haven’t been paid at all,” countered Marla Eby, UTLA’S director of communications, who attended the campouts at the district offices. “Even though the district says that 90 percent of the problem has been fixed, we don’t see any evidence of that.”
UTLA president A.J. Duffy said in an interview that an estimated 500 to 700 teachers would likely visit the payroll center with paycheck difficulties.
“We have received over 300 phone calls from teachers about the payroll crisis,” Duffy said.
Some of the biggest hurdles that the district faces in correcting the payroll problem are the various types of payments that teachers receive and the underlying problems that are inherent with annualized pay for the district’s educators.
“It has been a challenge for our programs to translate all of that into an accurate paycheck,” Holmquist explained.
Union officials and others have suggested that the software system that the district employs should have been changed.
“After the first month that there were problems with teachers getting paid, that system should have been replaced,” asserted Kelly Kane. Kane, the president of the Westchester-Playa del Rey Education Foundation, runs a computer consulting business. “Teachers not getting paid should have been a priority a long time ago.”
Duffy also took issue with the school district’s choice of informational technology that pertains to teachers’ payroll.
“[The district] bought a computer system off the shelf, rather than a payroll system that was fashioned for our unique needs,” he charged.
The school district has hired a consultant to help fix the ongoing glitches in the system, and Holmquist said that the district is still using the same payroll software.
“We are still using the same computer model,” Holmquist confirmed. “We still have all of the complexities of what we have with our certificated employees.”
Paul Duke, a physical education teacher who resides in Venice and works at University High School, related a story that is similar to that of many of his colleagues. During the summer, he received an unexpected salary overpayment, which, according to district officials, was due to the fact that he had been underpaid during the year. Then, a month later, he received a much smaller check than usual, with an explanation that he had been overpaid.
The payroll crisis “has really put me in a tough financial position,” said Duke, whose paycheck was correct on November 5th but whose sick-day pay was incorrect.
Sam Cuccinello, a special education teacher at Belmont High School, has run the gamut — overpaid, not paid and underpaid.
“Everyone that I talk to at the district tells me I owe a different amount,” Cuccinello said. “I’ve had to cancel all of my direct payments because of the uncertainty of when or if I’m going to be paid.”
Duffy believes that district educators have a lot more to be anxious about than just their paychecks being inaccurate.
“Our members are very concerned about their taxes,” said the union leader, referring to the question of whether the district can produce accurate W-2 forms next year for teachers.
“LAUSD has told us that they may not be able to meet with all UTLA members before the end of the calendar year. Our members are concerned that their payroll issues will be resolved way too late.”
Holmquist told The Argonaut that the district has been working with the teachers union to assist any educator who is in need of assistance with any problems that have arisen from the payroll problem.
“We have documents for certificated staff where they can be reimbursed,” he said. “Employees should not be responsible for errors out of their control.”
Holmquist also said that the district would reimburse teachers who have incurred late payments due to the computer malfunction.
School district officials hope to have all of the defects repaired within the next few months.
“Our target date has been to achieve stability in our payroll system by January,” said Holmquist.
Duke and many of his colleagues have expressed a great deal of frustration over the continuing payroll crisis.
“Can you think of another industry where this would be tolerated?” Duke asked. “The payroll debacle has been really embarrassing.”
Duffy said that his union was considering drafting a letter to each school site in the district, asking their union representatives if teachers are willing to consider a one-day walkout at some point.
The Westchester/Playa del Rey Education Foundation, a two-year-old nonprofit organization that seeks to assist Westchester and Playa del Rey schools by raising money for them, is planning a fundraiser to help teachers during a time when many of them say they are struggling to make ends meet due to the payroll. The bake sale is set for later this month, said Kane.
The campout lasted three days, from Monday through Wednesday, November 5th to 7th.