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Computer mixup cuts teacher pay

More than 300 summer school teachers were paid for days as first-year employees with bachelor's degrees.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published June 17, 2006


TAMPA - The Hillsborough school district underpaid more than 300 teachers Friday, the latest in a series of miscues associated with the agency's new financial computer system.

Because of a programming error, 321 summer school teachers received up to eight days' salary as if they were first-year employees with bachelor's degrees, regardless of their actual tenure or education level. The pay difference surpassed $300 for more senior teachers with master's degrees.

"We regret, clearly, inconveniencing our teachers," said Jack Davis, chief information and technology officer for the district. "We will issue retro checks for all of them. It will be fixed quickly."

He acknowledged that the new $7-million computer system, which launched in July 2005 more than three years behind schedule, has its flaws. A recent state audit revealed the need for better security controls. Teachers in schools with the highest concentration of poverty didn't get their negotiated pay incentives until several weeks into the academic year.

Vacation and sick leave were miscalculated for several employees because of a programming error. During late 2005, the system mistakenly stopped withholding union dues for hundreds of employees.

But the system was not to blame for the latest mix-up, Davis said: "The technology did exactly what the people told it to do."

The system was instructed to implement new pay rates beginning June 9. But many teachers began summer classes several days earlier. The system kicked them back to starting teacher salary as a default, much as it did earlier in the school year when an employee's job status changed.

It happened to Susan Groves, a 17-year veteran teacher with a master's degree. For weeks, she said, she was paid $20.76 an hour instead of the correct $30.99. She counted herself lucky not to have been shortchanged this week, though she is teaching summer school.

"How can this happen?" asked Groves, a Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association representative at Carrollwood Elementary School. "It wouldn't be acceptable if we had done it."

The association fielded several calls from concerned teachers Friday morning. But it had no answers by late afternoon.

School district spokesman Stephen Hegarty said the affected teachers would get an explanation in the mail, along with assurances that the difference would be sent out Monday and that the error would not occur again.

"We recognize what the problem is, and we were able to fix it," he said.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at (813) 269-5304 or solochek@sptimes.com.