April 12th, 2019 6:32 PM
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."