Monday, March 28, 2011

District misses payroll; Timmonsville teachers stage sit-in

You only get paid by your school district once a month. For convenience, you've set your mortgage, utilities, insurance and other payments to be drafted automatically from your checking account on the day of the month that your check is automatically deposited into your account.

Sound familiar?

Then let me add a twist.

Your district is suffering deep budget cuts. As part of those cuts, your superintendent has laid off your district's payroll clerk and no one else has been given the clerk's responsibilities. As a result, the date comes -- and goes by -- that the clerk arranges for checks to be issued, and salaries to be automatically deposited.

When you discover the damage -- bank service fees for insufficient funds begin to accrue, and still no funds are being deposited -- what do you do?

In Florence District 4, this happened, and teachers at Timmonsville High School did something about it, all together.

According to a source within Florence School District 4, teachers at Timmonsville High School staged a sit-in in the school’s cafeteria Friday morning after learning they hadn’t received their monthly paycheck, via direct deposit, after a short-staffed administration failed to deposit payroll funds in time Thursday. The demonstration, which had some parents picking up their children early, reached a conclusion of sorts when administrators told high school teachers they would be paid later that day and teachers returned with their students to class.

Florence School District 4 Superintendent Dr. Bertha McCants later e-mailed teachers saying some might not be paid until Monday, the source said.

The payroll snafu is just part of the ongoing problems in the tiny Florence County district, which just a few weeks ago laid off 19 employees and made many program cuts in a desperate attempt to balance its budget.

According to media reports, State Superintendent Mick Zais will send a financial consultant from his office.

Budget cuts have been occurring for the last few years without abatement, but it apparently took a teacher sit-in and early cancellation of the school day to stir parents to react.

David Redding, who has a child attending Florence 4 schools, said something must be done to help the district.

“Just for the fact that basically you’re dealing with 700 plus kids who may or may not get a quality education and where is the money going that is supposed to be funding the school to begin with?” he asked.

“The state legislators, they said there has to be a deficiency for them to actually act. Well hello, is this not a deficiency? I mean, what more do you need to do something, you know, at what point do you say enough’s enough and go in and fix the problems?”

Welcome to our world, Mr. Redding.

Who can blame Timmonsville's teachers for their reaction? The area isn't wealthy, the supplement can't be great, and the district employees see their profession blamed, criticized, undermined and degraded in the news media daily. They get paid only monthly -- when people in the private sector collect their pay every week or every two weeks, giving them greater financial freedom, even with meager pay -- and to have their monthly pay interrupted -- with the countless bank damages to follow -- is a stupid, unnecessary insult to their professionalism and service.

EVEN in this circumstance, the educators of Timmonsville feel "muzzled," according to another parent.

Vernon Davis, the parent of another Florence 4 student, leads an organized team of concerned parents and spent Friday in and out of the schools talking with teachers.

“Our teachers they are concerned, but they are muzzled at this point. They do have a voice, they do want to be, but at the same time they can only say so much,” he said. “Their main concern, as is all of our main concern, is our children ... but it has gone to another level today with payroll.

“Many teachers have written checks and have checks that are coming back because money has not been adequately put in place there, so as of today, that is their main concern.”

So what exactly does it take for educators in South Carolina to feel free and empowered enough to speak up when foolish leadership and unnecessary budget cuts conspire to make them second-class citizens?

1 comment:

  1. When The SC Education Association found out about this crisis, phone calls were made immediately to the teachers who are members of The SCEA and we followed up with the district. We were so proud of our members for taking a stand on this issue! In addition to this payroll mess, we are looking into how recent decisions were made to cut teachers before the end of the year. Stay tuned and keep speaking up when things aren't right!