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Baltimore County school district employees say they’re unsure about accuracy of tax documents

Baltimore County Public Schools employees say they are worried about the accuracy of tax documents that began arriving — late — this month, relating to lingering issues from the ransomware attack that shut down district computer systems last year.

School officials stress that the W-2 wage and tax forms and the amounts included on them are accurate, just in a different format. Still, accountants are advising employees not to complete their taxes and some employees have run into difficulties when attempting to submit their taxes online, according to union officials.

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Late Tuesday, Superintendent Darryl L. Williams sent an email to staff that new W-2 forms would be made available to them, but added the Comptroller of Maryland’s office “had affirmed that the W-2 forms issued by BCPS are compliant with state regulations and may be used to file Maryland tax returns.”

Confusion over the forms — which appear to show that school district employees received income in both Maryland and Pennsylvania as well as wages that some teachers worry aren’t correct — is compounding some teachers’ frustrations over late, missing or incomplete paychecks, inaccurate sick leave accrual and issues with benefits since the school system was rocked by the pandemic and the cyber attack last year.

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“It’s one thing after another,” said Tom DeHart, executive director of the Council of Administrative and Supervisory Employees, the bargaining unit representing school principals and other administrators.

“The cyber attack has been catastrophic, I get that — but it goes back to communication,” he said.

There was no notice from the school system regarding the W-2s, he said.

“What that creates, unfortunately, is a lack of trust in the system — the inconsistent communication makes it that much tougher,” DeHart said.

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The tax forms were sent March 1 to school employees after the school system was granted an extension from the IRS due to fallout from the November ransomware attack, said school system spokesman Charlie Herndon. Typically employers must get the forms to employees by February 1.

The school system also switched to a new vendor to prepare the tax forms sent to about 18,000 employees, Herndon said.

Employees, unless they seek an individual extension, must still file taxes by the April 15 deadline. Many are being advised by accountants not to do so, according to employees and union leaders.

Taxpayers face the possibility of fees and interest for incorrect or late taxes. There’s also an additional incentive to file tax returns quickly this year: 2020 tax returns can determine eligibility for any additional federal stimulus payments approved by Congress and President Joe Biden.

Fred Bartlett, a former Community College of Baltimore County professor whose wife teaches at Catonsville High School, said Friday they still had not received her W-2, although they were notified last week it would be arriving.

He is unsure if the pair will file the W-2 in its current form.

“It’s almost a month before taxes are due and we still don’t have the W-2,” he said. “It’s just frustrating. The longer it takes to get them filed, the longer it’s gonna take to get a return.”

The confusion, Herndon said, stems from the format of the W-2 forms sent this year, which include tax information for Maryland as well as Pennsylvania.

Employees confused about the new format should look under box 17 where there is “just one amount there for [tax withholding in] the state in which you are living — either Maryland or Pennsylvania,” Herndon said.

In an email sent to school employees Saturday, Williams stressed that the school system “has correctly remitted taxes collected from employees to their self-declared state of residence, whether it is PA or MD.”

He added the new W-2 format has been used by another Maryland school district.

“There’s nothing inappropriate,” Herndon said. “No one’s taxes are being withheld from a state where they don’t live.”

But “nobody feels comfortable filing their taxes with something that you know is wrong,” said county teacher Tracy Rehmert.

Cindy Sexton, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, which represents about 9,000 certified educators, said union members have reported receiving W-2s with inaccurate residential addresses and wages they worry don’t add up correctly.

Verifying that has proved difficult for teachers, who are unable to access electronic pay statements since the cyber attack, including to verify their end-of-year earnings, Sexton said. Pay stubs sent by mail have also been inconsistent, teachers and union representatives say

“I’ve heard from people whose numbers are way off,” Sexton said about wages and withholding on the tax forms.

Rehmert, who said she has worked for the school system for two decades, would like to see “a swift resolution” from school officials. Until she receives a corrected W-2, she feels uneasy filing.

“This should be a very definitive document,” she said. “You’re really messing with people’s emotions when you mess with their money.”

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