Detroit Teachers Not Receiving Paychecks

Privatization of Payroll Service Could Fix Problem, Say Observers

Aaron Carr wants what he is owed and he wants it now. Or at least at some point during his lifetime.

Carr, a technician at King High School, is just one of 20,000 employees of the Detroit school district who is having difficulties receiving his paycheck.

Carr works overtime to prepare the school football field for games. He told The Detroit News, however, that the district still owes him $5,000 in overtime pay and that he will not work overtime until he receives his check.

Many Detroit teachers and other staff have received their paychecks late, have been underpaid, or have failed to receive a check at all. In response, the Detroit Federation of Teachers has sued the district, demanding any pay raises and back pay that teachers have yet to receive.

The payroll problem has persisted for nearly six years but has created additional tension in the wake of the recent teachers' strike. But such problems are not unique to Detroit. They have become almost commonplace in other large school districts including Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

The recurring troubles in Detroit have revived calls for the privatization of the district's payroll service, a move that interim Chief Executive Officer David Adamany has considered.

"This persistent problem should embolden . . . Adamany to carry out his proposal to outsource or contract out the payroll function," The Detroit News editorialized. "Given the continued inability of the payroll department to do the job, outsourcing the work, or at least a part of it, has become an imperative, even if it means job losses."

Outsourcing could actually be a win-win situation for teachers and taxpayers, says Michael LaFaive, managing editor of Michigan Privatization Report. "Turning payroll over to a private company with an incentive to do the job right will ensure that teachers get paid, and most likely will lead to savings for the district.

"Most importantly, more resources-in terms of dollars and teachers' time-could then be directed to the classroom," he adds.

Already, Adamany has implemented a new payroll computer program and established a Payroll Service Center to address problems.

For at least two years, observers have blamed the district's human resources department for the recurring problems. Audits have shown that the department lacks the necessary training and skills, and its largely manual system disrupts communication and often leads to inaccuracies.

The payroll problems have forced many teachers to wait in line at the Schools Center Building for as long as two hours simply to receive pay that they already should have received.

Apart from the obvious inconvenience to the teachers, the time that it has taken to remedy this situation has had an indirect effect on the district's 180,000 students. Instead of educating students, teachers have had to spend time dealing with bureaucracy.

"What a waste of time," Kettering High School teacher Granville Caldwell told the News. "I could have spent the time preparing lessons for my students."

Despite the persistence of the problem, Adamany cites improvements that have been made this fall. Errors fell from the first pay cycle to the second by about a third to less than 200, but many more teachers may have received their checks late or not at all.