What Now? District workers blame each other as payroll snafu continues (school district headquarters installs bullet proof glass - seriously!)

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District, workers blame each other as school payroll snafu continues

Perzel's piling on_State Rep. blasts School District, Ed Rendell, city, and John Street Much more on the mayors race

by Yvette Ousley and Scott Heimer Daily News Staff Writers

War has broken out in the School District.

On one side is the district itself, which fired the first volley after the Daily News reported extensive problems with its new computer payroll and purchasing system.

The district declared that the problems were caused mostly by "errors in entering data into the system."

Secretaries and principals responsible for entering much of the data returned fire.

"This is a war, and they're not going to blame it on the secretaries this time," said senior secretary Loretta Crea.

"Hogwash," Mike Axelrod, president of the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators, Teamsters Local 502, said in response to the district's contention.

A "scurrilous attack on principals and secretaries," he said.

The district was quick to backtrack, but the damage may have been done.

"The statements that were made the other day were not meant to slam employees in the field," said Barbara Grant, School District spokesperson, "but to indicate that human error in the field and the central office is playing a role in the problem."

That's not the way the people "in the field" heard it.

"You can call this the shift-the-blame shuffle," Axelrod said.

The secretaries complain about a $26 million computer payroll and purchasing system that they say is time consuming, difficult to use, archaic and inept.

On Monday, the Daily News reported that the pricey new "Advantage" system fouls up paychecks, including checks for district workers both past and present, the deceased and the retired, and has held up payments to vendors.

People who have not been paid are suffering. They can't pay their bills and have been threatened with shutoffs by utility companies.

Secretaries want the district to know they aren't to blame for a system they say the district purchased without consulting them.

According to Crea, who works at Edward W. Bok Technical High School, secretaries were never given the chance to pilot the new system, and training was given by "inadequate, inept, unprepared instructors . . . ."

After two pay periods rife with payroll mistakes, secretaries got together to attend a union meeting to air their complaints. But when complaints were aired, Crea claims secretaries were told they were "too conscientious" and shouldn't concern themselves with payroll foulups.

A district secretary who spoke confidentially with the Daily News yesterday echoed those same sentiments, describing the new system as time consuming and useless.

"It is a grave concern that I have, as well as other secretaries. They didn't confer with us" before installing the system. "Why didn't they discuss it with us?"

Added Lorraine Grantham, a school secretary: "A lot of secretaries are extremely upset."

"There's a tremendous learning curve here," said the School District's Grant. "We were all a lot more comfortable with the old system."

But she insisted that the problems with the Advantage system are "short term" and that eventually "we'll wind up in a better place with a Y2K compliant state-of-the-art system that really brings us into the modern age."

Grant said the district has set up a hotline for people who need help.

Axelrod said his group will call on City Council to launch an investigation of the system.

He also said his organization met with the state auditor general's office in the summer, "because we felt there were too many unanswered questions and the project was costing much, much more than anticipated."

Karen Walsh, spokesperson for the auditor general's office, said the office is not investigating the computer system, but is "reviewing" the complaints of the administrators.

She said the office's Bureau of School Audits requested information about the new computer system from the district. It is now being looked at by auditors, she said.

"Our people are doing a yeoman's job trying to get this system up and running and operational," Axelrod said. "But they didn't have time to do it."

He called the system "a major ripoff," and a "nightmare."

Secretaries aren't the only district workers bemoaning the sad state of the payroll department.

Teachers, principals, school police, night school employees, cafeteria workers and bus drivers, among others, have reported payroll foulups ranging from no check at all to double the normal amount.

To school bus driver Wesley Pritchett, the bump of not getting paid by a new School District computer system is a bigger shock than any speed bump he'd encountered in his six years on the job.

"You have to die in order to get paid. You're better off dead," Pritchett joked, high-fiving fellow driver Juawine Sowell yesterday at the Shallcross Bus Depot on Woodhaven Road in Northeast Philadelphia.

"If you go downtown, I bet they [at the School District headquarters] got their money," said Sowell. "They just got bulletproof glass put in there, probably because they knew this was coming."

"Why else would you switch over to bulletproof glass, making it like being in a prison where you talk through the glass by phones?" he asked.

Although the drivers were given their regular pay last Thursday, they haven't gotten their overtime. And for many, including Sowell, that's a nice piece of change.

"About $400," he said. "I've got five kids and two cars, and a house to pay off. I'm a month behind in my bills, now."

"Now, I've got to explain to these companies why I didn't pay, and they don't care," said Sowell.

"That's because they don't live in Philadelphia," said Pritchett. "I have no choice but to take the 'late' charge."

"If you can pay us regular time, why can't you pay us the overtime?" Pritchett asked. "People think it's just the teachers, but it's us, too. And the custodians. And everyone else."

Pritchett, who's raising a 10-month-old daughter in his Frankford home, said he was "just going to follow what the union tells me to do."

Across the parking lot, driver Ed Pfeil, parking his bus after the morning run, said the School District owed him about $400 in overtime. But he wasn't upset.

"I'll get it, sooner or later. I rely on my [regular hours] paycheck. This will be play money," said Pfeil, 30, a five-year veteran with two kids who lives in Mayfair.

Other drivers were equally accepting of the snafu.

"It's just botched up. I'm sure they'll get it straightened out. If I were a single mother, I'd probably be more upset about it," said Jane Westergon, a driver for 10 years.

"I think it'll be resolved," said another single driver, Brenda Andrews. "I hope so, anyway. There's just me to take care of, but still, I have some bills that have to be paid."

But Sowell wasn't taking that attitude.

"They [the School District] were working so hard to keep us from going on strike on Sept. 1," he said. "Now you're not going to get paid, here in October? Come on, get outa here."

Staff writer April Adamson contributed to this report.

-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), October 20, 1999


"The Blame Game" is just warming up, folks. Wait until we hit January 1....

-- King of Spain (madrid@aol.cum), October 20, 1999.

Gets down right personal when a "minor program glitch" (just-a-bump-in-the-road-folks, remember) starts affecting payrolls.....

This is one program, one city, one school district....

Now, image possibly hundreds of thousands of payroll, tax, pension, automatic withdrawal, automatic transfer, automatic insurance, automatic .... programs in (possibly/proabably/definitely) hundreds of thousands of businesses and school districts and city and state offices begin fouling up.

After all - this district at least "tried" to fix things. They still got only one thing screwed up - but at least they tried.....

-- Robert A. Cook, PE (Marietta, GA) (cook.r@csaatl.com), October 20, 1999.

72 days.


-- Jack (jsprat@eld.~net), October 20, 1999.

< "Our people are doing a yeoman's job trying to get this system up and running and operational," Axelrod said. "But they didn't have time to do it." >>


'nuff said. ...... Didn't have time to do it.

-- Robert A. Cook, PE (Marietta, GA) (cook.r@csaatl.com), October 20, 1999.

Good post "Homer" was wondering what ever happened with this problem from earlier post's Well that "shoots the". All we need is a long weekend to straighten these problems out.... Of~Course we all know better.............

-- kevin (innxxs@yahoo.com), October 20, 1999.

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