Portland’s Superintendent Issues an Apology for the Payroll Issues

Payroll Issues: Superintendent Xavier Botana informed district employees in an email on Wednesday that the Portland school department is attempting to fix payroll problems that have resulted in personnel not getting paid on time or getting the wrong amounts, and a permanent solution may not be in place until the autumn.

Having heard about the payroll problems that have plagued several of our employees, I can certainly say that I feel terrible about the stress and anguish that I’ve given them. Botana noted that extra efforts were being made to fix the problems as soon as feasible.

“PPS is negotiating with a vendor to outsource our payroll services to address these difficulties long-term,” he added. This change will be gradual to implement, but we want to have it completely operational by the start of the 2023-24 school year.

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Portland’s Superintendent Issues an Apology for the Payroll Issues

Botana stated that the district is collaborating with a software firm to fix some of the urgent challenges, but did not provide a time frame for when these problems would be resolved. When I asked him why the switch to a new payroll processing provider wouldn’t be finished until the start of the next academic year, he didn’t offer an explanation. Since spring, district officials have been trying to switch over to a new processing provider.

The district has missed paying several employees, including all of the district’s ed technologists, for multiple pay periods in a row, prompting the email. The Portland Public School Board of Education and the district’s ed technicians reached an agreement on a three-year contract on October 18 that includes a 3 percent retroactive raise for the 2021-22 school year and a 2 percent raise for the current school year.

Portland's Superintendent Issues an Apology for the Payroll Issues
Portland’s Superintendent Issues an Apology for the Payroll Issues

Neither the raises nor the back pay for the ed technicians has been distributed as of yet. Botana has stated that these problems will be fixed prior to the start of winter break on December 23.

When asked about additional payroll concerns, Botana said the district is working to fix them.

“Payroll has formed a priority queue for resolving all concerns, with an emphasis on ensuring all employees’ primary earnings are paid on time,” he explained. Although he did not specify what he meant by “timely manner,” Botana did say that by December 2 the district would have properly disbursed co-curricular and stipend payments.

There is no way to know how many employees have been affected, but some have already reported problems such as inability to pay rent or utilities and increased interest and overdraft penalties from their credit cards and banks.

Payroll problems have plagued the Portland school district, and ed technologists are still waiting for raises and back pay.
Second-year ed tech at Lincoln Middle School’s special education program Julie Reali stated, “It’s horrible that we work our butts off to just be placed on the back burner like this.” Reali, a teacher for 20 years, said she is unsure of the exact amount of retroactive salary she is due, but that it would have been helpful during the holiday season. The hourly wage for Reali is $25.

HR PROBLEMS
According to Botana, the district has been experiencing difficulties processing payroll since early October due to a lack of payroll personnel. “It has been challenging for others to step in and support the payroll department due to a lack of employee training and clear grasp of our payroll procedures, a payroll system that was not fully built out, and gaps in process documentation.”

According to the email, one of the district’s payroll employees went on medical leave in October, while other payroll employees left in the summer. Botana did not provide an explanation for the personnel departures or the lack of replacements prior to the start of the school year.

There is a problem with the district’s method for accumulating paid leave. Botana did not provide any further details but did say that employees will be paid back for their unused vacation time once the underlying problem had been fixed.

Botana did not elaborate on what the district is doing to help its employees who will likely suffer short-term financial consequences due to the payroll delays.

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Kerrie Dowdy, president of the Portland Education Association, and Jennifer Cooper, president of the Portland Education Association for Educational Technicians, along with the Maine Education Association, released a joint statement last week in response to the district’s payroll issues, in which they demanded more transparency and announced their intention to hire legal counsel to handle any pay discrepancies and expenses incurred by staff.

MEA President Grace Leavitt has pledged that the union will “do everything is required to support our members and guarantee they receive all the salary they have earned” in light of the situation.
On Wednesday, Botana tried to get in touch with Dowdy, Cooper, and the MEA via email, but none of them responded.

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