HISD Tries To Get Back That Money It Says It Incorrectly Paid Staffers & Some Teachers

The Houston school district says it's been wrongly paying staffers and some teachers for years, and now it wants that money back.

About 3,700 school district employees are affected (HISD has about 24,000 workers, according to the Texas Education Agency), and they are being told to make things right.

The trouble stems from 12-month HISD employees being paid in advance for time they hadn't yet worked, district spokesman Jason Spencer (one of those affected, by the way) says. When a staffer has left HISD in the past, they usually reconcile the difference through various paid off days. Now the district wants cash, if necessary.

"Each year, 12-month employees receive a total of 22 leave and vacation days," he says. "This is in addition to regular holidays, spring break, and winter break. Employees typically have enough accrued leave time when they leave HISD that they do not have to pay cash, although some do. Now, HISD is attempting to reconcile this issue with all impacted employees by the end of this new fiscal year. "

And that means settle up now.

"Employees have two choices: repay the advance pay with the leave time they've accumulated, or pay through a payroll deduction," he says.

He adds a frisson of understatement: "Obviously, this is upsetting to many folks who did not realize the system was set up this way."

Most teachers are not affected, by the way, since they're hired under 10-month contracts.

We've asked Spencer for more details, such as the total and average dollar figure involved, and will update when we hear back.

By the way, when the Los Angeles school district experienced a similar episode a few years back, things got messy and ended up in court.

Here's the FAQ list HISD put together on the issue, in case you want to wallow in the bureaucratic nightmare of others:

Q: What is a "payroll reconciliation plan" and why is it needed? A: Simply put, about 3,700 12-month employees have been paid for time they have not yet worked, and this is the district's method of correcting that situation.

Q: Why is this happening? A: When HISD converted to the PeopleSoft payroll management system in the 1999-2000 school year, 12-month employees began receiving an advance on their salaries that allowed all district employees to be paid on the same schedule. The number of days advanced has increased almost every year since PeopleSoft's implementation, due to normal shifts in the calendar year, duty schedules, and pay dates.

Q: How does this affect me? A: If you are an employee on a 12-month duty schedule who was hired before July 11, 2011, you will be required to pay back the number of days advanced to you (either in the year of the conversion, or in your initial year of hire). The number of days owed ranges from 9 to 20.

Q: How can I determine the number of days I owe the district? A: The letter you receive this week by mail will contain information specific to you, but generally, affected employees fall into one of four categories:

Those hired before the year 2000 (9 days) Those hired between 2000 and 2004 (between 9 and 12 days) Those hired between 2004 and July 11, 2011 (between 12 and 18 days) Transfers from less than 12 month to 12 month between 2011 and February 1, 2012 (20 days)

Q: What are my options for repayment? A: HISD recognizes that large, unexpected expenses can pose a significant hardship to many families, so the district is trying to offer as much flexibility as possible in its repayment terms. Employees will be presented with a number of alternatives to make up the days they were advanced, including:

1. using leave time earned (any combination of state, local, and vacation) 2. having regular deductions made from their paychecks for up to two years (or 52 pay cycles) 3. making a one-time payment via cash or check to the Payroll Dept.

Q: How long do I have to make a decision? A: Affected employees are asked to complete the form they receive by mail and return it to the Payroll Department no later than Monday, October 1, 2012.

Q: Can I use vacation days I would otherwise lose by Aug 31, 2012 (due to having more than 30 days accumulated)? A: Yes. In addition, when you retire, any personal days used to reconcile your account will be held harmless for the purpose of determining days used for the Attendance Incentive Plan, which allows employees to be eligible for a cash payout of state days at retirement.

Q: Why didn't I have the option of returning the advanced pay when I first became aware of it? A: Unfortunately, HISD did not have a system in place to accept returns on advanced days until now. The Board of Education approved this plan at its regular monthly meeting on August 9, 2012.

Q: Are all employees affected by this? A: No. A new payroll system was put into place last summer, so 12-month employees hired after July 11, 2011 will not be affected by the reconciliation. Employees working on any other schedule (e.g. 10-month, 11.5-month, etc.) will also not be affected. The district's goal is to have all employees moved to the new system by August 2013.

Q: Is there any chance of this ever happening again? A: No. This reconciliation will clear all debts and put everyone on a true, 26-week schedule, in which employees are only paid for the time they have worked. If you would like a receipt in writing, please contact Payroll Manager Mary Perosa at 713-556-6440 or mperosa@houstonisd.org to request one.

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