D.C. schools issued paychecks by mistake

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D.C. Schools Issued Paychecks by Mistake

By Sylvia Moreno Washington Post Staff Writer Wednesday, March 1, 2000; Page B02

District school officials are trying to determine how many paychecks have been issued this year to people who do not work for the system, the latest in a string of payroll mistakes.

A preliminary investigation has determined that at least three people who are not school employees were paid more than $8,000 altogether, officials said. The school system's payroll office has ordered an internal audit and started efforts to recover the funds or to stop payment.

Those responsible for issuing the checks may have played a part in other payroll problems, said Don Rickford, the school system's chief financial officer. The earlier problems involved paychecks that were inaccurate or that were not received by teachers.

Rickford said three people were fired Feb. 7. "We have been looking to see . . . if there were any other employees affected by these performance issues," Rickford said. "Since we have many employees [in the public school system]--10,000--we're requesting some assistance" from the audit unit of the city's chief financial officer. Rickford and his department report to D.C. Chief Financial Officer Valerie Holt.

The problems surfaced after October, when a new, citywide payroll computer system went into effect. Under the new pay system, hundreds of teachers received inaccurate checks or no paychecks for several pay periods. Those problems lingered into January. Then in February, there were other troubles. Almost 1,600 W-2s had to be reissued on Feb. 16 because a variety of problems, payroll officials said yesterday.

The issue of paying a nonexistent employee was first reported in the Washington Times. Robert Stewart, a Fairfax County schoolteacher, had received three paychecks totaling $1,971.65 and a 1999 W-2 tax form from the District.

In August, Stewart applied for a teaching job in the District and was assigned to Oyster Elementary School, said his wife, Tara Stewart. But he couldn't teach at the bilingual school because he was not proficient in Spanish. He was offered a position at Wheatley Elementary instead, but he decided to take a job in Fairfax.

Rickford said, however, that Robert Stewart signed a contract to work in the District and took an oath of office and was placed on Wheatley's roster of teachers. Rickford said there was no written record that he had withdrawn from the system.

Stewart said he tried to talk to officials and finally left a message at District school headquarters. His wife said she had notified D.C. school officials when checks started to arrive.

Early last month, school officials said, they discovered that Stewart was mistakenly paid during an in-depth investigation of the work of two payroll technicians and their supervisor after problems surfaced with the teacher payroll.

Rickford said his office found that the payroll technicians were calling up computerized school rosters and automatically authorizing payment from the list, disregarding time sheets submitted by principals. Stewart's name, along with the names of two other people who never showed up for work, were on the Wheatley roster, Rickford said.

Of the two others, one received two direct deposits totaling $2,912.67 and one received three checks totaling $3,191.34.

-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), March 01, 2000


DC Seems to stand for "disfunctional city!"

-- Mad Monk (madmonk@hawaiian.net), March 01, 2000.

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