School system finds solution to paycheck problem

After a flurry of social media posts from angry teachers and administrators, the unified Shelby County School system has found what it believes is a solution to a gap in employees’ pay. BE logo square

Interim Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II told employees in a letter dated Monday that it has come up with a plan to prevent former Shelby County School district teachers and administrators from missing their Aug. 2 paycheck. Hopson had addressed a letter to employees and school board members last week saying that they would miss a paycheck as the district harmonized two distinct payrolls — one used by the former Memphis City Schools and another by the former Shelby County Schools.

The problem, as the original letter stated, is that MCS employees were paid in arrears, while SCS employees would be paid ahead of time. The new unified system will pay in arrears.

That upset no only teachers who received little notice about the upcoming change, but several board members as well.

“While I understand this action and what it is meant to do, it is absolutely unacceptable,” said board member David Reaves in a letter to Hopson, which he also shared on his Facebook page. “Make it right!”

Following a press conference on Friday, during which Hopson agreed that the timing of the announcement was ill-conceived, the interim superintendent said the district would work to come up with a plan to fix the problem.

The new plan will allow former SCS teachers and 10-month administrators to receive 27 paychecks during the 2013-2014 school year instead of 26. That will allow those employees to receive the Aug. 2 paycheck they would have missed otherwise. Staring with fiscal year 2014-2015, the district will switch to a 26-pay period schedule.

Reaves said that even under the original plan, none of the employees would have actually lost any pay. But that was not the issue, he said.

“The model is not the problem,” said Reaves. “It’s the timing, the impact and the communication.”

Hopson has said that the paycheck issue should have been addressed months ago. It’s one of several issues that the unified issue has addressed since beginning their work in December, and this decision, among others, was “bottlenecked.”

“I cannot guarantee that other difficult issues will not surface” said Hopson, who did not return calls seeking comment, in his letter to employees. “However, I can guarantee that we will be transparent about any problematic issues, and we will work to resolve all concerns in a fair manner.”

That was welcome news to Reaves and employees, who were concerned about the effect the missed paycheck would have not only on family budgets, but on students as well.

“That’s right at the beginning of the year, and teachers use that Aug. 2 paycheck to put supplies in their classrooms,” said Reaves. “It’s like dropping a bomb.”

Other board members, including David Pickler, Mike Wissman and Mary Gibson had sent a series of e-mails to Hopson late last week, much of them also making it onto Facebook, which became a rally for employees and administrators who demanded the district address the problem.

“I completely concur with Mr. Reaves’ comments and demand a reconsideration of this ill-conceived decision,” said Pickler in his communication with Hopson. “Enough is enough.”

Reaves also said that while he’s not a huge supporter of unions, he can understand why teachers have needed the protection in situations such as this.

“They are not going to have union protection under the unified system,” said Reaves. “So, we, as board members, need to stand up and make sure they are taken care of.”