After payroll error, D97 scrambles to cut checks

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

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

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

On last 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 that day, 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: michael@oakpark.com 

Reader Comments

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Ramona Lopez  

Posted: April 20th, 2019 2:17 PM

@Jason. I suggest you read "The Coddling of the American Mind" by Jonathon Haidt. Also, please watch a few videos by John McWhorter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3POpubeoIc

Kline Maureen  

Posted: April 19th, 2019 5:15 PM

thanks for your response @Chris - glad you didn't take offense at my "mini-lecture" - - and @Tabitha, I don't disagree with anything you said but your opening sentence confused me a little bit because it wasn't clear to me who you were directing it to or why. I guess the writer of the story? The continuing errors that seem to take place in financial matters at D97 is very disturbing for many reasons, as you definitely mentioned.

Tabitha Brown from Oak Park  

Posted: April 19th, 2019 1:44 AM

Thanks got clarifying @Kline. May I ask what I said was disagreeable? I thought I only stated facts, didn't give any opinions, oh wait hiring a payroll service? Maybe, but I think it's a good one. Saves the district, and residents, tax dollars. No salary, no benefits for that employee and mistakes like these are avoidable. And, if they do happen, they expense to correct it is not on the district or on the tax payers. It seems odd to have one person handle payroll for EVERY SINGLE EMPLOYEE in the district. Then, who's overseeing it? Actually, who's overseeing anything in the district? Apparently the everyone business office is now gone. Even the Tanner guy who was just hired as interim decided to same himself and bail before his first day.

Chris Johnson from OP  

Posted: April 18th, 2019 11:31 AM

@Kline - Completely right. I didn't read her comment, honestly. I just read that it was teachers making the negative comments about the issues. I completely agree that those in other roles could be really affected by this and "making it right" only goes so far for those people. Not that it is - but I was always embarrassed if my card was declined or if I had to bow out of something because I just didn't have the funds... then thinking that the funds SHOULD HAVE BEEN THERE... Yes, my comment was about the teachers and not being able to pay for groceries. I went way way down on the teachers salaries list and they all make enough that if they were delayed a day on paychecks, they should (barring any large expenditures!) be "ok." Other staff... I did not and for sure many are making less. Again, none of it is ok. Shouldn't run that way. I agree.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: April 18th, 2019 9:38 AM

not that I totally agree with her Chris, but I think part of Tabitha's point was that this payroll error impacted even the lower paid teachers aides and other support staff - some of whom may very well live paycheck to paycheck. At any rate, the main issue is the continued demonstration of incompetence at D97 administrative offices

Chris Johnson from OP  

Posted: April 18th, 2019 6:27 AM

The comment about not being able to buy groceries is a bit concerning (and over the top). If this were CPS or another district with low paid teachers. I would agree with all the anger and frustration at waiting 12 hours for that paycheck. Or waiting 2 weeks to get a corrective amount added to your paycheck. I'm sure everyone is aware of all the tax law changes and its been a mess - talk to your friendly accountant about all the last minute changes this year! I've had payroll issues at a larger company and they resolve them - done. Just like D97 did. Accounting and auditing - that accountability is a different story. Even though it was layered in here for emphasis that there is an issue. Check out average pay: https://salary.bettergov.org/search/?entity_type=person&employer=oak-park-esd-97-f78cbceb Teachers work about 180 days a year. Yes, I love hearing the arguments from friends and family that they have to work nights and weekends and over the summer (most of us by default are working 235 days plus the extra time...). Many of us work crazy hours to move up and learn . When I was making their average salary at D97, I was saving and making appropriate investments. Everyone should get the money they are owed. The money they worked for. But to say you can't buy groceries? There *are* people that are really struggling to buy groceries and working multiple jobs. Their *households* make far less than the one average teacher salary. Yep - I get there are issues at D97 and D200 and everywhere else. You can try and find ways to champion change. Most likely takes patience - nothing is ever instant (years and years). Or just find a school district that is better suited. (not a good solution for any of us with kids - but if its that bad... get the heck out.) Maybe that is the kick in the butt the administrators/residents need? Dunno.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: April 17th, 2019 11:36 PM

@ Dwyer: I cant speak for The Baroness, however I do not have any powers to control the narrative. I am making a comment.. Freedom from the press checks their power.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: April 17th, 2019 8:49 PM

I think Bridgett is simply commenting here, Brian, as you are. Or, if she's trying to "control the narrative," then what are you doing?

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: April 17th, 2019 8:04 PM

@ The Baroness of Bridgett: Yes indeed. Control the narrative?

Bridgett Baron  

Posted: April 17th, 2019 6:22 PM

Why is this story uploaded again? It's only slightly different than the original story, that ran four days ago. The original story has 26 comments, that weren't populated over to this new upload. Here is a link to the original story.... https://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/4-12-2019/After-payroll-error,-D97-scrambling-to-cut-teachers'-checks-/

Tabitha Brown from Oak Park  

Posted: April 17th, 2019 2:41 PM

I think it's sad how you always write as though District 97 as being made up of teachers. The district employee pool definitely includes staff other than teachers. It's my understanding that those other valuable team members also felt the brunt of this error. What about our school office staff that help with all of our students on a day-to-day, the staff that keeps our buildings clean and running as they should, the office at the main building that supports our schools, our lunchroom staff? So not just "a number of teachers," this affected ALL staff that received direct deposits. I pray those who live check to check; yes, even on a district 97 salary; are properly compensated for any issues this may have caused them. Oh, and who pays for that? Pull out your wallets Oak Park? Hindsight? Outsource this task to a payroll company. You'll probably save money and errors like this are avoided or the cost of the error is not on our community?

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