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Education

New Baltimore County school board members take the dais as TABCO members share struggles with payments, benefits

The five new faces who debuted at Baltimore County’s school board meeting Tuesday night got an earful from members of the county teacher union about issues with payment and health benefits.

With the Nov. 8 elections over and ballots counted, five new members — Robin Harvey, Jane E. Lichter, Maggie Litz Domanowski, Brenda Hatcher-Savoy and Christina Pumphrey — took their seats on the dais. While Pumphrey, who has worked with the Parent Teacher Association, and Lichter, who has held roles from teacher to principal have experience working in the system, not all of them have backgrounds in education.

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They heard members of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County or TABCO demand action to fix the problems with payroll and human resources.

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“The ask tonight is for systemic fixes to our concerns,” TABCO Secretary Frank Soda said. “Your employees need immediate action.”

TABCO members testified about “widespread issues” with payroll, benefits and certification departments. Such issues, according to a union news release, have led to “hundreds of employees being dropped from health insurance benefits, paid incorrect salaries, or waiting on delayed certification and tuition reimbursement.”

TABCO representative Christina Lanahan said some issues have existed for years. According to a TABCO post on Medium, “TABCO’s concerns as outlined are around BCPS leadership and proper staffing; the issue is not the hard-working staff in human resources and payroll.”

About 5% of TABCO members, the equivalent of hundreds of employees, have experienced ongoing issues.

On Monday, then-board president Julie Henn posted an update about the payroll issues on Facebook. She posted that CGI, the school system’s payroll vendor, experienced “an inadvertent error” that increased the amount of money withheld from checks. This came the same week employees were set to receive enhanced compensation packages that were announced at the end of September.

“CGI acknowledges that an error occurred in their process [Sunday],” Henn posted. “They will correct the error and re-run payroll immediately. … We want to assure you that this will be corrected, and the Thursday deposit will reflect the accurate withholdings. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.”

Still, TABCO members shared their stories at Tuesday’s meeting.

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Soda, who spoke on behalf of president Cindy Sexton, said recruitment and retention are TABCO’s primary goals, and that payroll issues and subpar customer service with its own employees are not conducive to this.

Lanahan said she has helped two new employees at Seven Oaks Elementary School in Perry Hall. A new librarian said she did not receive a check for this school year until mid-October. Lanahan said the lost income brought the new librarian much distress, including the threat of foreclosure on her house.

A new school nurse, with kids of her own, told Lanahan she wasn’t receiving her benefits. The issue wasn’t resolved until a TABCO partner got involved, Lanahan said.

“We’re so desperate for nurses, and she was looking for other jobs,” Lanahan said. “She said, ‘I love this school, I love everybody here, but I have to have my benefits.’”

Lanahan said issues with certifications, which impact how much someone can get paid, have existed since before the ransomware attack in 2020. She said it’s unbelievable that TABCO members are being forced to sit at a school board meeting wearing red and holding signs to have their compensation remedied.

Mary Anne O’Brien, a Baltimore County Schools speech therapist, spoke on behalf of a teacher who couldn’t attend but hadreceived their masters and was not compensated properly until several months later. O’Brien said teachers should focus on their lessons, not continually reaching out to HR.

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Superintendent Darryl L. Williams addressed human resources concerns brought up during public comment, saying his team is committed to resolving these issues. He said the problem is not with current HR employees, who already are working hard. Rather, he said, his team is working to revamp how human services works and provide regular updates to the school board.

Williams clarified that some issues have been ongoing since before he arrived and that he cannot continue to hear such stories.

“We’re going to take care of our people,” Williams said. “There are no excuses.”

Deputy Superintendent Myriam Yarbrough, who is leading the effort to remedy HR issues, gave an update to the board concerning actions taken so far and future plans. She said 16 clerical staff have been temporarily reassigned to HR and training begins Dec. 7 for a duration of eight weeks.

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Starting next week, employees and retirees should expect 48-hour reply times to their phone calls and emails, Yarbrough said.

The deputy superintendent said the school system worked with union members last year to remedy payroll concerns and that current issues are part of a backlog.

Yarbrough said the school system plans to launch a customer service center at its Greenwood campus to provide weekday support to employees and retirees. Job postings are already up for the center and will close Saturday.

Furthermore, Yarbrough shared an update on retiree benefit issues.

Baltimore County Schools retirees have been dealing with health benefits discrepancies since the November 2020 ransomware attack on the school system, with either too much or too little being taken from their pension checks for insurance.

Yarbrough said those who owe a balance will be forgiven up to $2,000 of their remaining premiums and that detailed notices will be mailed to retirees this week. This forgiveness program comes through partnership with the Baltimore County executive’s office.

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The new board members also voted in Lichter as the new school board president. Harvey was named vice president.


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