Overpaid teachers must give money back to district

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March 3, 2011, 5:42 pm

(NECN: Alysha Palumbo, Springfield, MA) - "I know that mistakes can happen but I'm just curious how, when we're held accountable and expected to perform to a level of proficiency, how something like this could happen," said elementary school teacher Kerri Sullivan.

City Councilor Mike Fenton, who's also chair of the finance committee, said, "I don't want to see this to turn into some sort of a witch hunt or finger pointing."

An uproar over a $1.2 million dollar payroll mistake that will have more than 1400 teachers repaying the Springfield School District out of their own pockets.

Special education teacher Mel Whitham said, "I'm concerned, I'm worried about how it's going to be paid back."

Superintendent Alan Ingram held an executive session meeting with the school committee Thursday night to try to come up with a reasonable repayment plan for the affected teachers.

The district says the error occurred in November when the new union contract went into effect.

A step was supposed to be removed from the pay scale, but instead some teachers incorrectly went up two steps in pay… and they all received retro pay dating back to July.

Union President of the Springfield Education Association Timothy Collins said, "We recognize they've got a legal obligation to pay this back, but it was their mistake and they ought to give teachers multiple options so that they can have the minimal impact on their own finances."
While some teachers never noticed the mistake because of fluctuating paychecks, school committee members say others tried to alert the district that something looked wrong.

School committee member Antonette Pepe said, "Some of them had called the school department, saying I'm being overpaid I think, I think there's a mistake in my check, well they ignored their comments."

The superintendent says the district has already put plans in place to prevent this from happening again and an investigation is underway to determine what went wrong and who should be held responsible.

But the focus right now is on helping teachers return the money to the budget, without hurting them financially.

Superintendent Ingram said, "We're $18 million dollars short going into FY12 so it has a huge implications on our fiscal situation, but we're committed to work through it and make sure we're doing the right thing by our teachers."

What the school committee decided in executive session will now be brought to the union before any action can be taken.

Tags: Alysha Palumbo, teachers, Springfield
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