My name is Jill Iger and I am teacher in LAUSD. My problems with payroll began this July on the first day of school. On July 5th, 2007, much to my surprise, I didn’t receive my direct deposit from LAUSD in my checking account. Luckily, a colleague asked me if I had received my deposit, otherwise, I would not have had a chance to electronically transfer all of my money from my savings account into my checking account so that my rent and other checks that had already been sent out would not bounce.
I felt especially upset by this since I had just spent the previous four days (the last days of vacation) moving my classroom by myself from a downstairs classroom to an upstairs room. On top of this, I had been staying at work until around 7pm each night setting up my classroom so that my students would have a great first day of school. I wish I could say that LAUSD wanted the same for me on my first day of school! Not being paid without warning is a horrifying feeling. When I found out that my money wasn’t in my account I became incredibly worried. I was extremely concerned during the day wondering what had happened while still maintaining composure and enthusiasm to finish teaching the first day. Immediately after dismissal at 2:30 p.m. I went to the district office only to wait until 9:30 p.m. that night to get 70% of my check! That was an exhausting seven hours of waiting, questioning and worrying. The first day of school is exhausting enough without having to deal with this absurdity. When I was able to speak with someone from the district and asked why I had not received my check, I was told that I owed the district money. According to them, I had been overpaid since January. I told them that I live paycheck to paycheck and know that I have not been overpaid. If, by some chance I was, it had to have been such a measly amount that I didn’t notice. They said that I was overpaid by $7,000 and that they would lend me 70% of my paycheck until they verified that I did indeed owe them money. When that was confirmed, they would then take that 70% back that they had just given me as well as the remainder of the $7,000 that I owed them. They said that they would take it out over the next two months. I was in shock when they told me this since this would be the equivalent of over two months of my salary taken, leaving me with nothing for those two months. I was told I would receive something in the mail with the exact calculations. I left that night drained emotionally, physically and financially. It was certainly difficult to go back to work the next day feeling respected and appreciated. I had no idea it would get worse.
A few weeks passed and I received a PPH (Personal Payroll History) from the district that was supposed to clarify everything. It didn’t. It only caused more confusion and stress. I now owed $8,155.55. The letter said that they would be sending me my repayment options in one week. They didn’t even give me a chance to question this amount. The only option was to REPAY! I spoke with my SAA and collected my pay stubs and went over them with a fine tooth comb. Neither of us found any overpayments. In fact, the amount that they said I had earned didn’t even equal my salary listed on the LAUSD pay scale.
I tried to call and speak to someone countless times but no one neither answered nor returned the messages that I had left. I was so stressed out that I called my parents to ask them if I could borrow money because I was going to have to come up with a huge amount of money. Talk about humiliation for me and unnecessary stress on my poor parents! I waited for the letter to arrive in the mail explaining the repayment options, but it never came. So all I had was time to think and wonder and worry how and when they were going to take this money from me. I had to be extremely careful with my money, not spending an extra penny on anything for fear that I would need it later. Also, since no money was taken out for taxes, I had to set aside what I could manage to deal with that sure-to-be chaos next April.
August 5th came and this time I got my direct deposit as expected. I checked the total gross with the amount listed on the pay scale and it matched. I assumed that the previous check still had problems because it was the last one of the prior school year. Unfortunately, my assumption was incorrect.
On September 4th, at 7:13 p.m. I received a call from the district. I missed the call and the woman left me a message saying that I would not be receiving my regular direct deposit that night and if I wanted to pick up an emergency check (70% of my gross without withholdings for taxes and retirement) the next day, I needed to speak to someone in their office by noon, otherwise they would be mailing it out. I immediately called back only to reach the answering machine informing me that business hours were from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Again I was disgusted and felt helpless. It was past business hours so there was no way to get any funds into my account. It was also too late to stop payment on my bills through bill pay because they were already pending. Since I teach during the district’s business hours, it was going to be impossible for me to call them to tell them to hold a check for me so that I could immediately deposit it into my account. That was absolutely absurd! I am a teacher. Did they expect me to tell my 6 year-old students to teach themselves while I waited for hours on hold in order to reach them before noon? The only way I could do this was to miss work. I did not want to do this but was left with no other choice. I had to frantically call substitutes and make lesson plans at the last minute. I was so frazzled that when I spoke to one of my regular subs and he asked if I was ok, I started to cry. Obviously, saying that this situation is stressful, is a huge understatement.
The next day I went to the district office and, of course, the paychecks were not ready and waiting to be “picked up” as they had mentioned on the message. Many hadn’t even been processed so I don’t know how many days I would have had to wait to get my 70 % had I not gone down there that day. I waited another 4 hours to receive another emergency check. I asked them why I didn’t receive a check this time since they said that the computer wouldn’t accept my hours this month. I was told to wait again while they printed my check. When another woman came to speak with me, I told her that I was upset about missing work and that I also insisted on her telling me why they say that I owe $8155. I was told that this was not their “top priority”. It is not their top priority because they don’t have to lie in bed night after night thinking about how they will pay their bills. It isn’t affecting their livelihood. I waited to receive my check and when I did I asked yet another LAUSD employee if she knew why I owed the money and if this was the reason why I didn’t get my check again. She said “Oh honey, don’t worry about the PPH, that isn’t even correct.” If the PPH isn’t correct, then why on Earth torment us by not informing us? It certainly would have been considerate, not to mention easy to send out a memo to inform us of this and at least give us a few peaceful nights sleep without worrying about the thousands and thousands of dollars that we supposedly owe. LAUSD does not seem to care how this is affecting every waking moment of our lives.
Payday used to be something to look forward to; now it is something that we dread. October 5th is only days away and already I am preparing myself for the very strong likelihood that I will have to go down again to the district office to beg for my money. I have reached the point where this is becoming overwhelming. You can see it on the teachers’ faces and in their body language. Teacher morale is definitely down. Work is not a happy place anymore. We don’t feel like we matter. We obviously don’t. We are being taken advantage of and this is because of our altruistic ways. Everybody knows that teachers don’t do their job for the money. But for goodness sake, we do have to eat, pay rent and live just like anyone else. We are not being paid but we go to work anyway. This is because we don’t want to hurt the children. This is who pays for all of this in the long run. By missing work, we don’t hurt the district, we hurt our students. We can’t concentrate on teaching because we are worried all the time. We miss school to get only a part of our hard earned paycheck. When we are not at work we have to make calls or go wait at the district office when we could be doing extra stuff for our students or taking care of ourselves and our families!! It is truly sad. In no other profession would someone go to work without being paid. It absolutely would NEVER happen. So why has this torture for LAUSD teachers been allowed to go on for nine months? ! When I think that I may have to wait until July of 2008, I feel frustrated and dismayed. What is this teaching our students? A former student of mine told his mother that he didn’t want to be a teacher when he grows up because he wouldn’t be able to take care of himself. This is heartbreaking. I know there are many teachers that have been more adversely affected than I have and I am here today to speak for them and to let you know that we matter and we deserve to be treated as human beings. Someone needs to speak out and I hope that someone will not only listen but do something to help us! You would not wish this to happen to any of your family, friends or loved ones. We shouldn’t have to wait any longer to get what we have earned. LAUSD needs to keep the good teachers it has and also attract new innovative ones. This will never happen if we continue this abuse. I already know of good teachers that are talking about leaving the district due to this payroll fiasco. I urge LAUSD to please do something NOW to wake us up from this nightmare.