Monday, March 28, 2011

Charleston says 90 teachers were overpaid, must repay $100K

In Timmonsville, teachers can't get paid on time, thanks to the confusion of budget cuts and staffing issues. In Charleston, teachers can't get paid correctly, thanks to the salary freeze allowed by state lawmakers last year.

Terri Shannon, the district's executive director for financial services, made the district's case in the Charleston Post and Courier on Saturday.

The overpayments are tied to the salary schedule. The state gave the district permission to freeze teachers' salaries at last year's level and not give them additional money for an additional year of service. The district decided to take advantage of the cost-saving measure, but the state didn't offer any guidelines or advice on how to execute that option, Shannon said.

The vast majority of the county's 3,500 teachers received the same salaries as last year and received credit for an extra year of experience. But about 90 teachers, most of whom were new to the district, were put on a salary schedule that gave them more money for their experience than teachers who already were employed by the district, Shannon said.

When officials discovered the error, they began a comprehensive review of teachers' pay, manually checking each teacher to ensure their pay was correct.

It's been a time-intensive process that officials said they wished they could've sped up and has taken longer than anticipated. "This is not a one-department or one-person issue," Shannon said. "It is a process issue, and it is a manual nightmare."

These were new teachers to the district, so the argument cannot be made that they somehow should have noticed that their paychecks were a little higher than last year's paychecks. How many people sit and manually calculate their salary each month?

So this snafu means that almost 100 great teachers will spend the next seven months drawing much smaller checks, as they are required to repay the unintended salary they've collected since August. That is, unless they're somehow able to repay it in a lump sum.

Sorry to sound cynical, but we live and work where we live and work: What's the likelihood that the teachers will be charged interest if they can't pay the lump sum?

How well would you be able to absorb that loss of salary?

At least the district's executive director for financial services apologizes.

"Our human resources and payroll offices jointly acknowledge and understand the frustration and anger that having to adjust one's salary can cause," said Terri Shannon, the district's executive director of financial services. "For this, and on behalf of our hard-working teachers, we sincerely apologize."

Shannon recognized the repayment could be a burden on some, and she said the district would do as much as it could to work with individual teachers.

By the way, kudos to the Post and Courier's Diette Courrege for unearthing this gem of information for the benefit of others who may want to move from other states to teach in Charleston: Bring your evidence.

For example, if someone has taught in another state and begins working for the district, that person doesn't automatically receive more money for their prior years of experience.

Presumably because Charleston's standards are much higher than they might be in, say, Connecticut or Michigan. You can't just march into a classroom off the street.

That is, unless you're with Teach for America, and you've taken that program's five-week "YOU TOO CAN BE A TEACHER" training. With that five-week certificate under your belt, you're well-trained and highly-qualified.

Welcome to South Carolina, y'all.

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