D97 apologizes for income tax withholding error

The district's payroll software failed to adjust for higher income tax rate

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

Some employees of Oak Park Elementary Schools District 97 are fuming after learning of an accounting error that resulted in an insufficient amount of payroll taxes being withheld from their paychecks last year and that could affect their state tax returns this year. 

Dr. Alicia Evans, D97's assistant superintendent for finance and operations, sent out an apologetic letter to staff alerting them to the error. 

"Please be advised that the Illinois income tax rate increased from 3.75 [percent] to 4.95 [percent]," she wrote. "The new rate was effectively July 1, 2017. However, the tax withholding increase was not changed in the D97 payroll system." 

As a result, Evans explained, the lower rate was withheld from employees' paychecks for all of 2017 — meaning those employees may likely owe state income taxes when they file their 2017 returns this year. 

Evans said that the 4.95 percent rate was applied as of Feb. 16, resulting in "slightly lower take home pay." 

The assistant superintendent said that district administrators learned of the error during the week of Feb. 5, after an employee noticed it while completing his or her tax return and brought it to their attention. 

Evans wrote in another letter to staff that administrators are working to figure out if the district's financial software provider, Reading, Penn.-based Alio, notified D97 officials about the rate change, "which is our standard operating procedure, and who from the district received it." 

Representatives from Alio could not be reached on Monday evening.

"What has further complicated this issue is the fact that this type of rate change is usually issued in January," Evans added, "not July. As a result, the prospect or possibility of a rate change was not something we were monitoring at the time it occurred." 

In her letters to staff, Evans assured employees that they would "not lose money because of this situation," will not be penalized and that the situation "will not impact the process [employees] use for filing your state tax return — i.e., you will not need to provide any additional forms or documentation." 

Employees will, however, be penalized if they don't submit their tax returns by the filing deadline. 

Evans said that the number of checks that were affected by the error varies depending on how often employees are paid. The error affected 13 checks issued to year-round employees, 10 checks issued to 10-month employees and 9 checks issues to 9-month employees. 

Evans apologized "not only for the error that was made, but also the way in which it was communicated to you. While I cannot fix the mistake, I will make sure that the necessary steps are taken to ensure it does not happen again." 

Among those correctives, Evans listed included making sure that "all future notifications are directed to multiple staff members within the [business] department," facilitating more training for payroll staff and participating "in Alio user meetings to keep current with payroll best practices, updates and changes." 

 Despite the apology, however, some employees, who insisted on anonymity, said that the error was just the latest illustration of a working environment that has become a "miserable place for people to work" and has thrown in sharp relief a growing divide between faculty and staff, on one side, and "very highly paid" administrators on the other. 

"Hundreds of thousands [of dollars] are spent on people to direct District 97," one faculty member complained, echoing the complaints of several others who submitted their statements by way of text message because they feared their district emails were monitored. 

"Stress is at a high, morale at a new low," texted another non-administrative employee. "Communication and clarity is non-existent." 

The withholding error is the second time in less than a year that the district has been scrambling to fix a major financial mistake. Last June, the district learned from Oak Park Township Assessor Ali ElSaffar about an unanticipated $2.6 million in additional property tax revenue in the wake of a 1-percent limiting rate increase referendum — one of two referenda that passed last April. The district had only asked taxpayers for $13.3 million. 

At the time, district officials said that the extra taxpayer money was due to "an unexpected increase in the equalization factor that happened after the D97 school board approved the 2016 levy and finalized the size of the two April referenda. 

ElSaffar explained at the time that the unanticipated revenue may have been avoided if the district caught the discrepancy in the draft tax reports that the Cook County Clerk's office sends to taxing bodies before releasing final reports. 

"There were opportunities to learn about this earlier and for whatever reason they didn't," ElSaffar said last year, adding that he didn't think the district acted in bad faith. He also attributed the revenue bump, in part, to the way that taxing bodies often "are acting in the dark" as to what EAV will be when they approve their annual levies.

The continued fallout from this most recent financial glitch could be the burden of someone else come June, when Evans is scheduled to leave her current position at D97 to work as the superintendent of business and operations at Rich Township High Schools in Matteson. Evans announced her resignation late last year. In December, D97 Supt. Carol Kelley said that the search for Evans' replacement had already started. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

Reader Comments

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Terry Stanton  

Posted: February 23rd, 2018 3:26 PM

"As a result, the prospect or possibility of a rate change was not something we were monitoring at the time it occurred." " Let me get this straight: No one there had any clue about the prospect or possibility of a major increase in the state income tax that was all over the news and any competent business manager would be attuned to? And we are supposed to trust you folks to be stewards of our dollars, which you are always claiming to be short of?

Jenna Brown Russell  

Posted: February 21st, 2018 9:49 PM

Perhaps the better headline, and the story worth investigating is 'D97 error said illustrative of an "environment that is a miserable place to work".' That is our classroom faculty speaking (in fear of retribution apparently). If that is reflective of the current culture, it would seem the accounting screw-ups and the tax robbing aren't close to the worst damage being done.

Reginald T Wright  

Posted: February 21st, 2018 2:52 PM

I am wondering if payroll is a Human Resources function or a Business Office function.

Michael Iversen  

Posted: February 21st, 2018 11:43 AM

You mean to say that it took 750 employees at D97 seven months to realize their salary paychecks did not correctly reflect the state income tax increase effective July 1? How is that possible? Based on 9-13 paychecks issued per D97 employee from July 1 to Feb, 1, that is about 9,000 paychecks. The state income tax increase on July 1 was common knowledge to every employer and employee in Illinois. How is it possible that nary a one of the 500 teachers, 220 staff, and 30 administrators at D97 noticed this error until now? We need a much better response from D97 than the one provided in this article.

Nick Polido  

Posted: February 21st, 2018 9:58 AM

"I understand it was a mistake that will force the employees to pay more in taxes,"

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: February 21st, 2018 9:07 AM

Brian....Yes, we are ALL paying more in taxes because of the increase. They are NOT paying more because of the payroll error.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: February 21st, 2018 8:46 AM

2 Nick: I reread the post. Follows in my mind. Just want to know where I went wrong, please.

Nick Polido  

Posted: February 21st, 2018 8:11 AM

Got that, you might want to read your initial post......

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: February 21st, 2018 7:45 AM

@ Ramona and Nick: They are paying more in taxes because there is a tax increase.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: February 20th, 2018 9:20 PM

The employees are NOT paying anymore in taxes. Less was taken out of their checks. They were overpaid and now must pay it back.

Nick Polido  

Posted: February 20th, 2018 9:07 PM

This is withholding issue for state income taxes and not by any means a increase in above what any other taxpayer pays filing in this state..

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: February 20th, 2018 4:59 PM

So the employees of the residents of Oak Park, who pay higher taxes to pay the employees, and now the employees are going to pay more in taxes, just like the residents of Oak Park. I understand it was a mistake that will force the employees to pay more in taxes, however an employee who works for the benefit of the employees and resident made the mistake.

Nick Polido  

Posted: February 20th, 2018 3:35 PM

Thank God for Rich Township High Schools in Matteson for luring Dr. Alicia Evans, D97's assistant superintendent for finance and operations to there community after her one and a 1/2 year tenure. Gods speed Matteson.

Brian Chang  

Posted: February 20th, 2018 2:51 PM

Has D97 apologized yet to the tax payers of Oak Park for taking excessive tax money above and beyond the referendum ask?

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