Computer Glitch Affects L.A. Teacher Pay

Tens of thousands of teachers in Los Angeles aren't getting a regular paycheck. Since the first of the year a new computer payroll system at the nation's second-largest school district has been malfunctioning.

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In Los Angeles, public school teachers are in an uproar over a technical glitch that is costing them money. The school district changed its payroll procedures and installed a $95 million computerized system nearly a year ago. And since then, the teachers say their paychecks have been a disaster with sums that are either grossly inflated or reduced to a few pennies.

NPR's Carrie Kahn has the story.

(Soundbite of teachers protesting)

Unidentified Man #1: Overpaid, underpaid, not paid, can't get it right.

CARRIE KAHN: About a hundred angry teachers recently marched in front of L.A. Unified School District Headquarters demanding a fix in the payroll debacle.

(Soundbite of protest)

KAHN: Since June, teacher Nora Castanos'(ph) monthly paycheck has been for $96.01.

Ms. NORA CASTANOS (Public School Teacher): So every month, I have to get a substitute, come to the Beaudry building, sit here…

KAHN: In the Beaudry building headquarters?

Ms. CASTANOS: …headquarters all day to get an emergency paycheck.

KAHN: The paycheck problems began last January when the school district underwent a $95 million technological overhaul. Among many things, the upgrade replaced is the antiquated payroll system. Since then, the district has hired two consulting firms at a cost of more than $10 million to fix the problems. Teacher Julia Goldstein, who hasn't gotten a correct check all summer, can't understand why the problems persist.

Ms. JULIA GOLDSTEIN (Public School Teacher): Five months is too long to wait to get an accurate paycheck. We have taxes. It's based on this inaccuracy. We have homes being lost. We have cars being repossessed. It's too long.

KAHN: Officials say most teachers have been overpaid and now owe the district more than $53 million. Sixth grade teacher, Lynn Murphy, says she's been told she owes thirty-four hundred dollars. She insists she never received the money.

Ms. LYNN MURPHY (Public School Teacher): You work without air conditioning. You work in unsafe conditions. You work in overcrowded classrooms. You know, that is all endless. But to not get paid for doing it? Is pretty bad.

Unidentified Male #2: Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Deloitte & Touche has got to go. Hey, hey. Ho, ho…

KAHN: Teachers have stepped up their protest in recent days. They're boycotting faculty meetings and picketing the offices of the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche, which administered the original $95 million upgrade. A firm spokeswoman said the company is unable to comment on the ongoing problems, but in a written statement insisted that Deloitte & Touche fulfilled its obligations under the contract.

School board president Monica Garcia says technological changes are hard. She says the district's complex pay structure especially for teachers is complicating the fix.

Ms. MONICA GARCIA (Board President, LA Unified School District): I apologize to every employee that has been negatively affected, and I ask them to work with the district to resolve their personal issue.

KAHN: But as the problems linger, such reassurances are being met with scorn across the city. One local newspaper columnist suggested that 12 monkeys with an abacus and a clipboard could do a better job. And in a district that struggles to hold on to good teachers, third grade instructor Nora Castanos says the problem is affecting even the most loyal employees.

Ms. CASTANOS: My brother's a teacher for LA Unified and my mother was a teacher for 32 years for LA Unified. We have, it's a family business. But it's no longer business if you're not getting paid.

KAHN: Teachers aren't the only ones in jeopardy. Because of the payroll glitches, the district hasn't been able to complete its own books. And if it misses an October 15th deadline to turn in last year's expenditure reports, the state could withhold the paychecks of the superintendent and all seven school board members.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

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