Summer school pay arrives late for some Maury County educators

Maury County public schools struggled to pay their educators on time during the district’s summer school program, leading some local educators to delay activities such as summer vacation and car repairs. .

MCPS executives have confirmed that it is behind in distributing payments to teachers during the first of two scheduled pay periods of its summer program, which aims to address student learning loss in accordance with the State initiative.

Sophomore Anthony Kloosterman, 16, is assisted by his Spanish teacher Spencer Hill during a special summer study session at Central High School in Columbia, Tenn. On Tuesday, June 29, 2021 .

The situation has been described as the result of poor internal communication which delayed payment to educators.

“The Directions Department did not include our office in correspondence regarding their benefit payment deadline,” said Doug Lukonen, Maury County finance manager.

MCPS Superintendent Michael Hickman apologized to teachers in a June 30 letter, advising teachers and staff that the county was working to correct the error.

“I know a lot of you are very frustrated and disappointed because you didn’t get your summer allowance for the first two weeks of June 30,” Hickman said. “I apologize that this did not happen. I have been in contact all day with our summer school supervisors and the finance department and am working diligently to ensure that this never happens again. . Mr. Lukonen from the county finance department assured me that you will receive this payment. I am so sorry that you expected this to happen on June 30, and it is not. “

Education official shares concerns

Stephanie Sparks-Newland, head of the Maury County Education Association, a local chapter of the Tennessee Education Association, said most educators received their installments on Friday.

Stephanie Sparks-Newland and other members of the Maury County Education Association attend a Maury County Board of Directors meeting on Monday, June 25, 2019.

Sparks-Newland, which did not participate in this year’s summer program, said the funds arrived more than a week after June 30, when educators were initially told they would receive the ‘allocation.

“Director Michael Hickman has sent everyone an apology,” Sparks-Newland said. “As I keep saying, apologies don’t pay the bills.”

Summer plans, delayed debts

Without the expected funds delivered as planned, the problem has caused some teachers to delay their plans, including Rainye Isbell, who spent the summer teaching physical education at Spring Hill Elementary School.

“This is unacceptable,” Isbell said. “Personally, I have to cancel vacations and drive a car that requires mechanical work because I expected to use my allowance money for it. Other teachers have budgeted as well and have to cancel plans as well. or explain to creditors why they don’t have their money. This isn’t the first time we’ve been burned by this same payroll department, either. “

Isbell said his school’s site supervisor said staff initially did not properly complete their allowances. She explained that the participating educators then corrected the documents, filling in two allowances for each week worked.

Isbell said school principals initially told her she would be paid three times during the summer program.

“All I know is it’s ridiculous,” Isbell said. “I, and many others, have religiously fulfilled my two allowances each week.”

Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn visits Whitthorne Middle School in Columbia, Tennessee on Tuesday, June 29, 2021. She is accompanied by Grade 7 math teacher Kenny Anderson as she visits the campus as part of its statewide bus tour, recognize summer learning programs across the state aimed at addressing learning loss due to COVID-19.

As a result of the late payment, Isbell said she and her family were unable to find a hotel for the duration of their planned vacation in Panama City, Florida.

“He had to be cut short,” Isbell said. “By the time I received the money, all of the hotels were booked.”

Although unable to pay for repairs to her car, Isbell said the delay caused her to drive the vehicle which needed additional repairs.

“In my building alone, I know people who were going to use their money for vacations, home evaluations, to take a trip to see their kids and family in another state, and even a teacher who needed help. a new HVAC unit, ”Isbell says.

“Fortunately I got paid on Friday and we can still take our vacation, but a lot of my teacher friends aren’t so lucky. Some vacations have been canceled. I know people who have had to borrow money from members of their family and who had to explain to creditors why they could not pay them, all because they were not paid themselves. “

She said she was disappointed and concerned about the school district, but the issue ultimately did not come as a surprise to Isbell, who has spent the past three years as a third grade teacher in the elementary school of Spring Hill.

“It has all been overwhelming and incurably frustrating,” Isbell said. “This is something I expect from Maury County. MCPS is constantly letting its employees down. MCPS really needs to do better with its employees. There is a reason there are 79 open positions in our district.”

Isbell said the problem was with the county’s finance department, not the school system itself.

Jessica Vasquez, Title I facilitator and fourth-grade teacher at STEM Randolph Howell Elementary School, said she was paid early for working the last week of summer school.

Jessica vasquez

“I know a lot of teachers were frustrated, but I can only imagine the stress in the finance office,” Vasquez said. “Allocation forms are stressful as they are, not to mention the special circumstances of government funding. “

Lukonen said many forms were submitted after the payroll deadline and the office hand-processed 432 allowances out of around 700 forms for the initial allowance which was due to be distributed on June 30.

He explained that the number of allowance forms does not represent the number of employees, as an employee can have up to three forms depending on their role in the summer program.

Maury County Finance Director Doug Lukonen attends a school board meeting at Horace O. Porter School in Columbia, Tennessee on Tuesday, April 20, 2021.

“We have worked with the instruction department and we have developed a plan to help prevent communication problems in the future,” said Lukonen. “Our office will communicate exclusively with employees on when they will be paid, as our office handles payroll.”

Lukonen said the department has processed and completed all remaining summer allowances for the two periods scheduled for Friday.

“Thus, the allowances for the July 15 payroll were paid a week earlier than the schedule provided for in the instruction,” Lukonen said.

Lukonen said the allocations will not require state approval and the situation will not lead to a future audit result for the school district.

“Everything was in accordance with the policy and the law,” said Lukonen.

Improvements continue to be made

Preceding the current problem, the school system moved forward in funding a new financial management system with the aim of preventing future problems related to compensation and the management of employee leave.

Earlier this year, the school district and county implemented the Kronos program, a workforce management platform, following a series of incidents involving payroll with the county school district.

“Next year we will be using a digital timesheet system (Kronos), and the new procedure will improve the accuracy and speed of the summer allocation process,” Lukonen said. “The new process will be much better than manual entry, correction, signing and reviewing 1,800 sheets of paper.”

A history of payroll incidents

The school district has experienced several controversies regarding the district’s remuneration of its educators.

The county and school district financial offices consolidated, following the passage of the Financial Management Act of 2018, a private law drafted specifically for the county.

After:Three audit findings identified in Maury County government, schools after history of pitfalls

After:Financial blunder worsens teacher morale in Maury County public schools

Since its implementation in 2019, the county has consolidated all funds into a smaller number of larger accounts, including school district funds.

After:Why Maury County Teachers Not Included in a 5% Salary Increase Proposal

After:Maury County School Board approves 2% pay hike for teachers

In the most recent school year, the inaccurate system led some teachers to owe the school district money because they had used sick days they thought they had accumulated.

MCEA executives said the issue also caused some employees to lose income after accidentally taking too much vacation and personal time.

In early 2020, it was discovered that Medicare and Social Security deductions had been omitted from paychecks for all employees and staff for the entire year 2019.

As a result, the missed deductions were then subtracted from each employee’s payroll for the next six months.

Four years earlier, what has been described as a glitch, left many of the school district’s more than 1,600 employees without their scheduled payroll deposit shortly before the Christmas vacation.

Contact Mike Christen at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @MikeChristenCDH.

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