‘Technical issues’ delay paychecks for DPS teachers

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Hundreds of Detroit Public Schools employees did not get paid on schedule Tuesday, the latest bump in the road for a district beset by fiscal problems.

Officials blame a technical glitch that they say should be corrected by Friday, but they didn’t explain exactly what caused the disruption in pay. Some district employees did get paid.

Some teachers have been told they’ll get their missing money — which usually is deposited directly into bank accounts — on a debit card. But they say that solution creates other problems such as being charged to withdraw the money or having to go to multiple banks, since they can’t withdraw the full amount at one time.

District spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski said “a variety of technical issues arose that affected a cross-section of DPS employees.” She said the delay “in no way” was related to whether the district had enough money to cover payroll.

Steve Conn, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said the payroll is “worse than that,” citing a number of missed paydays for some teachers.

“It’s about their complete unwillingness to provide an adequately resourced payroll department so teachers can be paid regularly and accurately,” Conn said.

There are about 3,000 teachers at DPS, Conn said.

“We are meeting with the Coalition of Unions now and are working toward resolving any payroll issues as quickly as possible for their members,” Zdrodowski said. “We are confident that we will resolve all of the existing issues, which are an extremely rare occurrence, between (Tuesday) and Friday.

“We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause our employees.”

Regina Dixon, a special education teacher at Coleman A. Young elementary, received her paycheck Tuesday, but it was missing some money.

“When I went online to look at my pay stub, I saw it was short by a whole week,” she said. “I was upset because I have obligations I need to meet. So I went down there today and was told they had to put the money on a debit card, so I have to go back on Friday after 3 p.m. But it’s inconvenient to have to go back, and there may be a long line.

“It’s a shame we have to go through this, especially with the so-called transformation of the schools.”

The payroll problem is another issue that has beset the district. It has run a deficit in nine of the past 11 fiscal years, with a net accumulated deficit of $1.28 billion during that period. Four state-appointed emergency managers have been named in the past six years, with Darnell Earley being appointed in January.

Marcie Taylor, a special education teacher at the Charles Wright Academy, said her check also was short by one week.

“It’s disheartening because I worked for my money and I want it,” she said. “I’m calculating how much to pay for bills, and I help my mother, who is sick, but now my check is short.”

Taylor said she already has a debit card because she was owed money by the district before.

“But it’s hard to get my money with the debit card because my name is not on it and I understand banks have their rules. But I can’t go to the ATM machine because they charge fees and I shouldn’t have to pay fees for my own money. So I have to go in front of a teller and each bank will only give you a certain amount of money on the debit card, so last time this happened, I wound up going to three different banks.”

She called the experience “hurtful.”

“A lot of us are working paycheck to paycheck because our pay has decreased,” she said. “We’re getting paid less because our health insurance went up. I’m paying $200 per paycheck for insurance. Now I have to call about my bills and ask if I can pay them on Friday because I wasn’t paid all my money on time.”

Detroit Public Schools board president Herman Davis said he had never experienced anything similar.

“For the 10 years I served on the board in the ’70s and ’80s, this never happened,” he said.

David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers Michigan, said his union was not involved in this issue. “But, obviously, teachers and staff need to be paid accurately and on time. “

Zdrodowski said Conn’s take on the missed payroll issue is “baseless and unwarranted.” He had sent out a press release early Tuesday morning blasting Earley for “more payroll foul-ups.”

Conn wrote, in part: “Many members received pay that was short hundreds of dollars. Others received nothing at all.

“This is at least the second major payroll problem in that many weeks. And on top of those problems, DPS still owes hundreds of teachers numerous special payments for workshops and earned bonuses.”

Conn said the district already had delayed the current paycheck by a week to realign its payroll calendar with the 365-day year. “But in doing that, they failed to properly notify the teachers, causing many to incur bank problems, including insufficient funds for automatic withdrawals,” Conn said.

Zdrodowski explained the district operates on a payroll system of 26 14-day pay periods, which totals 364 days.

“This system requires an adjustment with the 365-day calendar every five to seven years, which DPS just recently made,” she said. “The timing of this adjustment necessitated the shifting of the first payroll of the 2015-16 fiscal year by one week. The district provided advance notice to employees in order for them to make the appropriate preparations.”

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