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City school system shortchanges teachers' first paychecks of the year

Baltimore city school teachers and other employees stand in line at the school system's headquarters on North Avenue on Friday, waiting for paychecks that were not issued to many employees.
Baltimore city school teachers and other employees stand in line at the school system's headquarters on North Avenue on Friday, waiting for paychecks that were not issued to many employees. (Erica L. Green / Baltimore Sun)

Five o'clock was anything but a happy hour Friday for hundreds of Baltimore schoolteachers and staff members.

After the district failed to include contractual raises in employees' first paychecks of the year — and failed to pay some workers anything at all — teachers and staff flooded into city school headquarters to demand their money.

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They were urged there by the city teachers union, which learned Friday morning that teachers would be shortchanged.

Teachers were to receive a 1 percent cost-of-living increase on July 1, to be reflected in the paycheck Friday. Baltimore Teachers Union President Marietta English said some employees who moved schools or switched positions in recent weeks didn't receive a paycheck at all.

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"I am furious that this is not done," English wrote in an email Friday to 6,000 teachers and paraprofessionals. "It is totally ridiculous that teachers have to go without the negotiated raise and some may not receive a pay check at all."

City school officials sent a letter to employees late Friday afternoon saying it "is committed to ensuring that all staff are recognized for the work they do."

The letter went on to say the district was "pleased" that some employees would see the cost-of-living increases reflected in their paychecks on Friday.

At district headquarters on North Avenue, teachers and staff stood in the lines for hours — some with their children, others looking at watches to make sure they left in time to pick theirs up from child care. Many walked into the building, saw the line and left.

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Some spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of how their jobs would be affected.

"Every year, it's the same thing," said a secretary who has worked in the district for 19 years. "They're always messing with people's money. I need to pay my Sprint bill, I need groceries, and I've got places to go."

A teacher of four years said she was told her paycheck was waiting at North Avenue. She said she stood in line for a little more than an hour only to find out that it had been mailed.

Like many teachers and staff, she wasn't paid over the summer break. She hadn't received a paycheck since June.

"I looked out over the crowd, seeing people in line, taking time away from their families, standing for hours to get what belongs to them," she said. "It's just unacceptable."

The school system's first-floor board room was turned into a check-processing center, packed with people. City school officials said they would keep the offices open after-hours until the line was gone.

But in the district letter to employees, chief human capital officer Lisa Grillo said that "similar delays have actually occurred routinely each year," and in past years "salary adjustments have not appeared in paychecks until October."

English, the union leader, said she was assured of the September date for months, and said the district's failure to process the raises "outrageous and unfair."

She said teachers won't move up the union's negotiated pay ladder, receive cost-of-living increases or retroactive pay until Sept. 25.

"Our teachers and [paraprofessionals and school-related personnel] work too hard to be insulted and affronted like this," she wrote. "It is clear that the district is inept when it comes to correctly processing the well-earned salaries of their dedicated employees."

The paycheck delay was among several problems confronting the district as schools opened this year. Others include roach infestations and persistent teacher vacancies.

At Maritime Industries Academy, the district also grappled with vacant student seats. The district moved the school to Cherry Hill this year to facilitate a merger with another high school.

One-quarter of the student population showed up the first week, and less than half the second. School officials said they were reaching out to the community to improve attendance, but also monitoring the school to see if it could continue. The school currently has 142 students enrolled; city schools CEO Gregory Thornton believes that any school with fewer than 200 students is not viable.

In the weeks before opening, political and community leaders visited Maritime, amid complaints about its poor conditions.

Sen. Bill Ferguson, who led efforts to get the school ready to open, said Friday he was disheartened by the problems there, and with the opening of schools in general.

"There's nothing more important than creating great public schools for all of our city's children," he said. "The chaotic start to this school year is unacceptable and undermines this crucial priority for our city.

"We all must do better, and we all must be accountable for creating better opportunities for kids. There's no excuse for the alternative."

erica.green@baltsun.com

twitter.com/EricaLG

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