After payroll error, D97 scrambling to cut teachers' checks

District official says due to 'internal oversight,' some employees have not been paid on time

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

Oak Park Elementary Schools District 97 officials are scrambling to correct a payroll-related error that resulted in a number of teachers not receiving paychecks. 

On Friday afternoon, Paul Starck-King, D97's outgoing assistant superintendent of finance and operations, sent an email to district employees that acknowledged having learned of "a number [employees] who receive your paychecks via direct deposit contacted us this morning to let us know that the checks you were scheduled to receive this morning did not make it into your accounts."  

Starck-King said that after district officials"investigated the situation," they "discovered that this was the product of an internal oversight that led to our payroll information not being uploaded to the bank in time for this to happen." 

Starck-King said that the "oversight that led to it and the failure of our internal processes to catch it, are inexcusable," before apologizing "profusely" to those affected by the oversight. 

He explained that the district confirmed with its bank that employees who did not receive payments in their bank accounts would get them later today, perhaps by approximately 5 p.m. Starck-King added that the district will reimburse employees who may have incurred fees for insufficient funds. 

Friday's error is just the latest in a series of accounting mistakes that have happened in D97 within the last few years. 

In February 2018, the district acknowledged that an accounting error made the previous year had resulted in an insufficient amount of payroll taxes being withheld from employee paychecks — an error that could have affected their state tax returns in 2018. 

Alicia Evans, Starck-King's predecessor, also sent out an apologetic letter to employees alerting them to the error and assuring them that, as long as they filed their tax returns on time, they would not lose money or be penalized because of the mishap. 

After news spread about this most recent accounting error, two retired D97 teachers contacted Wednesday Journal to complain about what they described as the chronic "incompetence in the payroll department." 

One recently retired teacher, who taught for more than three decades with D97 and who requested anonymity, said that another accounting-related problem has been the consistent misreporting of sick days on teachers' pay stubs.  

"I know in the past that was an issue," she said during an interview on Friday afternoon. She also complained about the district's handling of her retirement coverage. 

"Retired teachers, by contract, are on the district's insurance plan for four years after we retire," she said. "Last year, we had to send letters and call [the administration], because we weren't getting any information about what our insurance was going to be. We finally got the information after [complaining]." 

Lisa Hendrix, who taught in D97 for roughly a decade before moving out of state in 2018, said that payroll was "an ongoing issue last year when I took a long-term substitute teaching position." 

Hendrix referenced the income tax snafu last year and said that her sick leave days were also misreported, which resulted in her receiving less money. Eventually, she said, the problem was fixed, but it wasn't immediately rectified.  

"They said, 'Oh, you're right, we'll reimburse you, but they couldn't cut a check until the next payroll — two weeks later," Hendrix said, before adding that the district has "a long history" of payroll issues that have generated a measure of "distrust" among employees.  

"The response is that it's the payroll company, we're sorry, or it's this new company, but this stuff keeps happening," she said. "You can't just say, 'My bad,' and make people wait. Teachers should not have to worry about whether or not they can buy their groceries on the way home from work." 

Contact:
Email: michael@oakpark.com

Reader Comments

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Comment Policy

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: April 16th, 2019 3:17 PM

@Jason " I am not interested in wasting mental time on small items that are low impact to our village." Yet you still continue to take the time to comment. It appears you hold random commenters @ oakpark.com to higher standard than you do the stewards of our tax dollars.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: April 16th, 2019 3:11 PM

@Jason and Brian, Please repost where I stated anyone should be fired. Feel free to copy and paste from my previous posts. The problem is, you can't because I didn't write those words. Hence, it appears YOU have made a mistake Brian.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: April 16th, 2019 2:21 PM

@Brian, that's a great call. Interesting how everyone else in this village has to be perfect but not those always complaining.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: April 16th, 2019 2:20 PM

@Edwin, it's called a figure of speech. I am not interested in wasting mental time on small items that are low impact to our village.

Brian Souders  

Posted: April 16th, 2019 2:15 PM

@Ramona made a mistake in her first post. It's not her first. Seems to me that per her point, Wednesday Journal should fire her from her commenting position.

Dori Bernstein  

Posted: April 16th, 2019 1:01 PM

It's time for the D97 to re-evaluate the Administration. Streamlining and training are in order. The numerous mistakes and high turnover makes a bad working environment for the teachers, and in turn, a worse learning environment for the students. D97 should be a leader in the State and bring the number of administrators/student ratio in line with the rest of the nation. https://chalkbeat.org/posts/chicago/2019/04/15/at-more-than-1-billion-illinois-tops-the-nation-in-school-administration-spending/

Edwin Haag  

Posted: April 15th, 2019 8:41 PM

@Jason. You took the time to comment that you don't have time for negative comments.

Edwin Haag  

Posted: April 15th, 2019 8:09 PM

Based on the article and comments, I think we can all agree none of us are hiring D97 to prepare our taxes or be our fiscal agent anytime soon.

Bridgett Baron  

Posted: April 15th, 2019 8:00 PM

As a payroll accountant in an industry far more challenging than what school payroll is, I do find this concerning. Reading this story, it would appear that employees are contacting the media in order to be heard, as there is a "long history of payroll issues." And this has "generated a measure of distrust among the employees."

Jason Cohen  

Posted: April 15th, 2019 7:32 PM

@Alex, what I don't have time for are the constant negative comments for every small thing that you and the rest of haters are always going nuts about. If you actually cared about facts you would know I have commented about the ridiculous pool proposals, the Madison road diet, high-rise buildings, traffic and parking issues on many occasions. I actually like it here so I am not going to get worked up about a payroll issue. Everyone will be ok.

Alex Garcia  

Posted: April 15th, 2019 5:24 PM

Jason: In all due respect, you are far too willing to gloss over certain very real problems facing Oak Park right now; and far too inclined to blame other readers here for simply pointing those out.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: April 15th, 2019 4:35 PM

Josh...just to be clear here I never stated the following you claimed: 1. This incident requires an independent audit. 2. I never suggested or demanded someone lose their job. 3. Never stated "off with their heads" Lastly, if you or Mr. Cohen actually read the article you would have read the following: "Friday's error is just the latest in a series of accounting mistakes that have happened in D97 within the last few years. " and "In February 2018, the district acknowledged that an accounting error made the previous year had resulted in an insufficient amount of payroll taxes being withheld from employee paychecks ?" an error that could have affected their state tax returns in 2018. " and "chronic "incompetence in the payroll department." and "another accounting-related problem has been the consistent misreporting of sick days on teachers' pay stubs." and ""an ongoing issue last year when I took a long-term substitute teaching position." and "the problem was fixed, but it wasn't immediately rectified" and "Oh, you're right, we'll reimburse you, but they couldn't cut a check until the next payroll ?" two weeks later," Hendrix said, before adding that the district has "a long history" of payroll issues that have generated a measure of "distrust" among employees. " Evidently, this is more than hitting the wrong key Mr. Hasson and this isn't just a one time mistake Mr. Cohen where things are quickly addressed. It appears to be a chronic issue and both of you fail to see a pattern here.

Josh Hasson  

Posted: April 15th, 2019 3:57 PM

Jason, please don't respond, let it go. Ramona is taking an employee mistake (probably missed hitting the enter key) into a massive accounting error that will require an independent audit. She won't be happy until someone is either fired or arrested. Now if she has things to say about the ridiculous Madison Street road diet I'm willing read her posts.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: April 15th, 2019 3:24 PM

Mr. Cohen, Indeed there are worse places to reside than Oak Park. I have chosen to live here for the past 24 years. The story seemed to be a worthy enough topic that our local newspaper felt it should be reported. Also, if you look beyond the headline you will see this is not a one time accounting error. In fact, D97 has quite the history of bad math. Perhaps you should write a letter to the editor asking them to stop writing stories that you deem irrelevant to the community. Unfortunately, all of us are paying dearly for D97's accounting error they made after the last referendum. Yes, there is history of accounting errors made by D97 and thankfully our local journalists make them known.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: April 15th, 2019 2:28 PM

@Josh, many of the posters on here get really excited over anything that feeds their opinion that OP is the worst place ever. I have worked at more than one company where there were payroll issues that were also quickly addressed and nobody managed to go nuts or get fired over it. This isn't good but it's hardly the end of the world. Mistakes happen. Certainly whomever is responsible should be reprimanded but let's not make it like this means everything is chaos at these schools.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: April 15th, 2019 12:38 PM

Yes, I made an error in my post regarding the school district. Feel better now Mr. Hasson? Since you run an $18 million organization, then I would assume you are ultimately responsible for payroll and results as well. Why do I have to explain this to you? Regarding your point #2, I too know the differences between District 97 and 200, the point I made about leadership could be applied to either, but in regards to the article, I misspoke. I didn't know we were sparring, buy I'm glad I put a smile on your face today Mr. Hasson. Next time I won't wear gloves.

Nick Polido  

Posted: April 15th, 2019 12:34 PM

"Paul Starck-King, D97's outgoing assistant superintendent of finance and operations" ??? I thought Mr. Starck-King just replaced Dr. Alicia Evan March of 2018? Dr. Alicia Evan was hired March of 2016 who had made a number of mistakes as well with a salary of $148,000.

Josh Hasson  

Posted: April 15th, 2019 12:20 PM

Clearly you are implying I am stupid so I will end with these 2 points: 1: I run an 18 million dollar organization 2: I can clearly understand what districts cover which schools and make my points accordingly. You ramble on with your nonsense and have yet to admit you had the districts mixed up. An error you will never admit to but will rebut with increased intensity and smearing verbiage. Rounds 1 & 2 go to me :) Nice meeting you

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: April 15th, 2019 12:07 PM

Did you actually read the article Mr. Hasson? It appears to be an ongoing issue "Friday's error is just the latest in a series of accounting mistakes that have happened in D97 within the last few years." How many mistakes do you get to make before you lose your job? Rest assured, those who continue to make these mistakes are still gainfully employed and enjoying a cadillac benefit package provided by the taxpayers of Oak Park.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: April 15th, 2019 11:59 AM

Never said "off with their heads" Mr. Hasson. Thanks for putting words in my mouth. How do I connect the 2? It's rather easy. Allow me to demonstrate. Leadership of organizations are responsible for everything as mundane as payroll processing to significant aspects like test scores and results. It comes with the territory. Clearly, you have never been in charge of anything Mr. Hasson if I have to explain this rudimentary concept to you.

Josh Hasson  

Posted: April 15th, 2019 11:28 AM

Ramona, I've been a subscriber to WJ for 24 years and do not remember a similar situation but if you prefer, off with their heads. Also trying to figure out how you connect minority test scores and a paycheck error together. I always enjoy reading your commentary so have at me

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: April 15th, 2019 11:13 AM

Actually Josh, in the private sector, people do lose their jobs for making mistakes. Sure, you can make a few, but once so many are made you are shown the door and promptly replaced.

Josh Hasson  

Posted: April 15th, 2019 10:47 AM

Chill Ramona, this did not happen at OPRF but with the elementary & middle schools. Secondly, a human error was made which shouldn't be the end of the world as everyone makes mistakes. The district made good on covering fines if anyone was effected. Hopefully you will never lose your job if you make a mistake. I guess OP residents are only liberal to a point

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: April 15th, 2019 10:21 AM

I agree Jeff. If this happened at Amazon or Wal Mart or Costco, it would make headlines and politicians would be "disgusted" at how corporate America is taking advantage of their workers. Leadership at OPRF isn't held accountable for anything. They hold the "community" responsible for the poor test score of the black students, yet the leadership that runs the day-to-day operations gets a pass.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: April 14th, 2019 4:09 PM

the unprofessionalism is stunning. Lets keep pretending they know how to do other things too.

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: April 14th, 2019 9:44 AM

When I first read that headline I thought the teachers had been overpaid and their checks had to be cut (ie. reduced). Probably better to say "scrambling to issue checks". How does this happen? Maybe District 97 should hire a good payroll service. If a private company had made this mistake it would be on the evening news with picket signs, etc. And where is our superintendent on this one? All roads lead to the person at the top.

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