Some Lexington Public Schools educators were paid weeks late for additional work they took on over the summer.
Lexington Education Association President Avon Lewis criticized the late payments during an opportunity for public comment at last week’s School Committee meeting. In a follow-up email Wednesday, she wrote that more than 100 Unit A and ALA educators, which include staff like nurses, counselors and administrators in addition to teachers, were not paid on time for summer work. Staff are typically paid on a biweekly schedule, with paychecks arriving every other Friday.
Those staff paid late “were doing intermittent work for the district,” which often entails “working for a few days on a specific project” such as curriculum development, planning programs for new hires and coordination related to reorganization of elementary special education programs in June. For this work, staff receive a rate of $260 per day, Lewis wrote, which is “significantly lower than the per diem of all of the Unit A staff who were impacted.”
Staff who worked in LPS summer-school type programs were paid on time, and staff on a year-round pay schedule received their base paychecks on time.
“Work on these projects started as early as July 1, with the new fiscal year, and continued through the end of August when school started,” Lewis wrote. To her knowledge, the earliest any staff had been paid for these projects was the second paycheck of this school year, in late September. She called this “a significant violation of the Massachusetts Wage law,” which stipulates that employees who work five to six days out of one calendar week must be paid no more than six days after a pay period ends, while those who work one to four days or seven days out of a week must be paid no more than seven days after a pay period ends.
“It is my understanding that all summer work submitted to payroll was processed for the 9/23 or 10/7 pay periods,” Superintendent Julie Hackett wrote in an email Thursday.
Lewis said that many staff take on this additional work in order to make up income when money is short in the summer. “Most of the educators who do this work do not get a summer paycheck… especially given the inflation, staff were counting on this money to make ends meet,” she wrote.
Hackett wrote that she found out about the delayed summer payments when Lewis contacted her Sept. 7. Within 48 hours, Hackett and the administrative team met and “wrote a protocol to address the problem” to ensure this does not happen again, which she shared with Lewis.
According to this memo, delays in administrator reviews of staff summer work contributed to some delays in payment.
Both the Curriculum Office and Office of Personnel and Staff Support processed summer work this year. In the Curriculum Office, administrative vacations “may have delayed the processing of some summer work,” and the Office of Personnel and Staff Support “did not review the professional learning proposals until the last week in August,” per Hackett’s memo.
The Office of Personnel and Staff Support used a different process for reviewing and processing summer work payment than the Curriculum Office, which led to a particularly high number of payments – 341 – being processed as a batch once the office finished reviewing all summer work in the last week of August.
That volume of simultaneous payments to process, coupled with the complexities of the first payroll of the new school year, delayed many payments to the Sept. 23 paycheck two weeks later. But Lewis spoke during the Sept. 27 School Committee meeting last week after some employees still had not been paid in the Sept. 23 payroll despite assurances earlier that month that they finally would be.
“We are a large organization with over 1,200 employees. Sometimes, despite people’s best intentions and efforts things go wrong,” Hackett wrote.
The protocol to prevent this problem from recurring in the future includes a few different “next steps” to change how payments are processed, including specifying an option to request “temporary administrative support” if needed to process timesheets faster, and focusing summer work processing in the Curriculum Office. If an employee submits their timesheet on time, and an administrator or assistant cannot process the paperwork, the memo states “we will forgo the review of individual projects to ensure compensation is processed in a timely manner.”
During last week’s School Committee meeting, Lewis suggested that a shortage of administrative staff resulting from district attempts to save money contributed to the delay in payments. “Maybe, instead of trimming more positions to be fiscally prudent, we could hire enough staff to get the most basic work of being an employer done,” she said. Lewis added in an email that delayed payments are not an issue the district has previously experienced in the past few years, and that many staff who emailed Human Resources over the summer asking when they would be paid never received a response.
“The paperwork for many of these people to get paid for these positions was literally sitting in a pile on someone’s desk, waiting to be processed,” Lewis wrote.
Hackett wrote that “there was no shortage of administrative staff due to budget cuts.” The LPS Assistant Director of Finance took a job in another district in June; while the district was in the process of hiring her replacement, she reapplied for her position, which she returned to in August. Beyond this, “no other positions were vacant and certainly no other positions were unfilled due to budget cuts,” Hackett wrote.
At last week’s meeting, Lewis said “These employees are being left in an unacceptable position of being asked to be patient for work they did months ago.”