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Howard County teachers struggle with unexpected smaller paychecks

A change in the Howard County school year scheduling has translated into a drastic difference in many teachers' first paycheck, leading to financial strain only days before students go back to school.

The change affects all 10-month employees who have elected for their pay to be stretched over a 12-month period. This year, the 2016-2017 school year begins for students Aug. 29. Teachers who work 10 months of the year returned to work Aug. 22, a week later than the past four years. This meant that 10-month employees had a five-day pay difference between their paycheck for the beginning of the last school year and the beginning of this one.

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The pay period operates on a 10-day schedule, from Thursday to Wednesday. Employees were paid for seven days Aug. 26. For many employees, this pay schedule resulted in a difference between $400 and $1,000 leaving teachers struggling to pay for basic living expenses.

John White, director of communications for the Howard County Public School system, said they identified the timing difference in pay for 10-month employees in early July and spoke with the Howard County teachers union. Howard County staff was formally informed of the decision Aug. 12.

"Our goal was for employees to have awareness before receiving their check," White said.

Paul Lemle, president of Howard County's teachers union, said the pay difference still caught teachers by surprise. He spent most of his day Friday speaking with hundreds of educators who were put in "very difficult situations."

"I've heard people say they are approaching mortgage companies for extensions and talking to landlords," Lemle said. "They're doing anything they can."

Beverly Davis, chief financial officer for Howard County Schools, said she wanted to make it clear that teachers have received all of their pay. Still, White said if an employee did not plan for the difference it would be difficult to manage. Lemle said the union is proposing a display online where teachers can view what each future paycheck would be.

On Sept. 9, employees will be paid for eight days. Their first full paycheck will occur Sept. 23. Even with the financial strain, Lemle reiterated that Howard County educators are still the best in Maryland.

"They are going to teach students the same way on day one," Lemle said. "Students come first."

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