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Pay crisis politics
Tip of the iceberg, or just a glitch?
Payroll system flunks _Computer firm has glitches at large sites in other states A knuckle-rapping _Teachers give district until Friday to straighten payroll out Who to call if your pay is wrong Agreement on one thing: It stinks
by William Bunch Daily News Staff Writer
Republican mayoral candidate Sam Katz said the computer glitch that's been causing hundreds of Philadelphia school employees to go without paychecks shows why the troubled district won't get more money out of Harrisburg unless it can show some better management.
"I can't imagine any worse thing happening at a worse time," said Katz, who believes that state lawmakers and Gov. Ridge will continue to rebuff Philadelphia's requests for more aid unless they are convinced the dollars aren't being wasted.
Katz, a longtime businessman whose only governmental experience was a brief tenure on the Board of Education, said he knows that new computer systems often experience glitches, but also that such a problem should never have been allowed to fester for weeks. He also noted that it's "demoralizing" for workers not to get paid.
John Street, the Democratic nominee, said that from what he understood, the problem is simply a technical one, and nothing more.
"I've seen these problems before," said Street, who said that it would be unfair to characterized the entire school system as inept merely because of the computer glitch.
The reactions from the two mayoral candidates about the paycheck debacle are not surprising. Since the fall campaign began, Katz has consistently been critical of the way the district has been run under Superintendent David Hornbeck and says he'd work to replace him.
Street, on the other hand, has been cautiously optimistic about Hornbeck's Children Achieving program, and he has said that he will evaluate the schools chief carefully when his contract expires. He said that much of the schools' problems were the result of not having enough money.
Street recently was endorsed by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers after besting Katz in a vote of rank-and-file members.
Katz repeated yesterday that lawmakers wanted to make sure that Philadelphia schools were not squandering money before they sent more dollars east. Katz said he understood that the district also had rejected a proposal from the Oracle Corp. for a system that would have cost less money to install.
"If that's what happened here," Katz asked, "is this the tip of the iceberg?" Katz, who has said repeatedly that as mayor he would be the chief executive officer of the troubled district, added that the mayor and his aides "ought to get their act in gear."
-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), October 19, 1999
Schools concede payroll mistakes
The Philadelphia district says glitches are no worse than before. The problem: A new 2000-ready system.
By Susan Snyder INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
The Philadelphia School District said yesterday that it had failed to pay some employees since the start of the school year - or paid them improperly - and had wrongly issued checks to recently retired or deceased workers.
And, officials said, about 40 vendors have cut off supplies to the district because they have not been paid.
The problems are the result of the district's attempts to adapt to a new $26 million computer system designed to improve operations and ensure readiness for 2000, district officials said.
Employees are protesting at news conferences and in court.
"We have new teachers who haven't been paid. They're threatening to quit," said Ted Kirsch, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. "There are horror stories in every category - teachers, secretaries, classroom assistants. It's just an unconscionable situation."
Hundreds of employees have been affected, PFT officials said at a news conference yesterday.
District officials, however, say that payroll problems occur every year and that there are actually fewer glitches this year with the new system. And they say they have issued corrective checks to employees whose cases have been presented and confirmed.
"This is not a new problem," said Marjorie Adler, executive director of human resources.
Herbert Schectman, acting executive director of financial resources, also said that at least once before, vendors had cut off the district.
"There's a learning curve," he said of the new computer system. "We're trying to get everything paid on a regular basis. We're monitoring it daily."
Meanwhile, Kirsch said, some employees who have not been paid are having trouble covering their mortgages. Some are receiving shutoff notices from their utilities. Some cannot make their college loan payments.
"We have worked too hard these past several months recruiting new teachers to watch them leave in disgust because they have not been paid," Kirsch said.
Two other unions - School Employees' Local 1201 and the School Police Association of Philadelphia - complained earlier this month in Common Pleas Court about the mistakes. Kirsch said his union might do the same thing if the situation is not resolved by the end of the week.
District officials acknowledge that more than $500,000 in gross pay was wrongly distributed to retired or deceased employees.
More than $200,000 already has been recovered, said Barbara Grant, the district's chief spokeswoman. The district intends to collect the rest by deducting it from severance payments or seeking direct repayment, she said.
"In the few cases where people feel like they don't want to return the money, we will pursue them legally, and eventually, we will get the money," Grant said.
The district issued the checks to employees who over the summer retired - or, in a few cases, died. Those changes had not been input into the computer system, Grant said.
The problems come as the district is trying to learn how to use the "Advantage" computer system, which has been installed over the last 21 months.
For the last three pay periods, an emergency-response team was set up to field complaints, she said.
But Grant said there actually had been fewer problems this year with payroll than in previous school years.
"Less than one-half of one percent of our payroll is experiencing problems," Grant said, noting that there are about 30,000 employees in the district.
In September, 153 "on-demand" checks were issued to correct underpayments, compared with 294 in September 1998, Schectman noted. More than 60 such checks have been issued so far this month.
Union officials say, however, that the problem this year is more acute - and more strange. Kinsey School secretary Mary Weldon, who spoke at the news conference, described the case of a 20-year employee - a single mother - who disappeared from district records. "They have no idea why," Weldon said.
At the same time, checks for people who no longer work at Kinsey School have been arriving there, she said.
There's no record of Mary Peter, a new teacher at Tilden Middle School, who has been on the job since Sept. 13. "It has caused a lot of financial stress on me and my family," Peter said.
PFT officials also said night-school employees had worked for 16 nights without being paid.
When Local 1201 and the school police took the case to court, the district promised to have everything corrected by Friday, but it failed to do so, said Thomas Doyle, president of the local that covers cleaning personnel, bus drivers and others.
Hundreds of workers have not received $250 and $500 bonuses, Doyle said. Some other employees also have not received paychecks.
Doyle said the union fielded about 400 phone calls from members on Friday, complaining about the pay mistakes. Some workers earn only $12,000 or $13,000 a year, he said.
"It's tough trying to keep a roof over your head when you're not receiving that money," Doyle said.
-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), October 19, 1999.
Agreement on one thing: It stinks
Payroll system flunks _Computer firm has glitches at large sites in other states A knuckle-rapping _Teachers give district until Friday to straighten payroll out Who to call if your pay is wrong Pay crisis politics _Tip of the iceberg, or just a glitch?
by Yvette Ousley Daily News Staff Writer
Here are some comments on the problems of the School District's new computer payroll and purchasing system:
School board president Floyd Alston: "We were not surprised to hear of some errors. But apparently there's more to it than we knew. Obviously, we're very concerned, especially concerned about people missing pay.
". . .We'll either correct what's wrong with the system or come up with a way to go around the system to issue checks manually."
School board member Deborah Parks: "I have suggested to the administration on several occasions that if the computer system could not generate the appropriate checks then they should be issued manually. . .pay the employees and the vendors. What we have today is misplaced arrogance."
School board member Jacques Lurie, chairman of the board's technology committee: "I think it's extremely serious when employees don't get paid or get overpaid. A single case is serious.
"I'm going to be calling a meeting of the technology committee to get a full report of where we are. If [the Daily News] reports are accurate, it will appear that we didn't get a full story."
Loretta Crea, senior secretary at the Edward W. Bok Technical High School: "As usual, not a thought was given to the secretaries who, in fact, would be the implementers of [the new system.] We were called together for training by the most inadequate, inept, unprepared instructors that I have ever had the displeasure of sitting before.
"We were ill-prepared to come into the schools in September to actually operate this system. . ."
Mike Axelrod, president of the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators, Teamsters Local 502, regarding School District contention that problems were caused by principals and secretaries: "You can call this the shift-the-blame shuffle. It's merely an attempt to blame the people in the field for shortcomings of a system that is not working the way it was supposed to."
-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), October 19, 1999.
Teachers give district until Friday to straighten payroll out
Payroll system flunks _Computer firm has glitches at large sites in other states Who to call if your pay is wrong Pay crisis politics _Tip of the iceberg, or just a glitch? Agreement on one thing: It stinks
by Yvonne Latty Daily News Staff Writer
Pay up by Friday or else.
That's the deadline the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has slapped on the Philadelphia School District, which has not paid hundreds of employees since August because of a computer foul-up.
The $26 million computer system is, however, paying dead and former employees. But it's screwing up bonus payments to current workers and payments to vendors.
Ted Kirsch, the teachers' union president, was flanked yesterday by dozens of angry employees outside the School District administration building as he blasted the district.
"We don't want to fight through the courts, but if we must we will fight until every employee is paid," Kirsch said. "The situation is intolerable, and our students are suffering because of the chaos that continues seven weeks into the school year."
Kirsch said union lawyers met with school officials yesterday to discuss the mess. Unless it is cleared up, he said, the union will take action on Friday.
He wouldn't be more specific.
"Running to court is a last resort, but we want to get people paid," Kirsch said.
Mary Peter, a math and science teacher, began teaching at the Tilden Middle School in SouthWest Philadelphia on Sept. 13 and hasn't been paid.
"I come to school every day, but I still have not been paid. I have a family, a mortgage to pay and children in college who need an allowance. I had been living off my savings for the past five weeks, but I don't know how much longer I can continue."
The School District would not answer Daily News questions about the problem, but issued a statement apologizing for the payroll errors and noting that employees who complain can get checks issued within a day.
The statement also said the new computer system was not fouling up as many checks as the old system did last year.
"In September 1999 we issued 153 correction paychecks, compared to 294 correction paychecks in September 1998," the statement said.
The statement added: "This year the problems have been compounded by the fact that our employees have had to learn a new system."
School board president Floyd Alston said he had been hearing complaints about the paycheck problems for the last three weeks.
"Whatever it takes to get it done, we'll either correct what is wrong with the system or come up with a way to go around the system to issue checks manually," he said.
In yesterday's Daily News, Herbert Kaufman, the district's director of employment operations, blamed principals and secretaries - not the computer system. He said they were not submitting the proper paperwork.
But school secretary Mary Weldon said that's a lie.
"We were trained three days over the summer on the new system, but not by anyone who knew payroll," said Weldon, the secretary at the John Kinsey School in East Oak Lane.
"We were told we had to fill out special forms that took five hours. Then we were told we had to do it again and input all new numbers. You make 10 to 12 phone calls to get any information. "I am repeatedly getting paychecks for people who quit in July, yet people who work are not getting paid," she said.
Jack Steinberg, director of educational affairs, said he's never seen such a "cruel approach" in his 40 years of employment.
"You have people literally in need to pay their bills and they are some of the lowest-paid employees," he said.
"It is cruel to tell someone to wait. You have to be pretty heartless, and really, the buck stops at the top."
Staff writer Yvette Ousley contributed to this report.
-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), October 19, 1999.
Homer, I vote for the top snowflake on the iceberg!
-- Man From Uncle 1999 (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 19, 1999.
Unless that "Achievement Program" is the outright flunking of any child on the low middle curve or below of *INTERNATIONAL TESTS* one ought not to waste a thought about it.
-- Paula (email@example.com), October 19, 1999.