Following a payment mistake that left over 1,000 employees overpaid for months and walkouts after the district announced pay cuts, the Durham Public Schools Board of Education pledged Monday that affected workers can keep what they received through January 2024.
The overpayments began in October, a result of accounting errors that left 1,300 employees classified in higher pay steps. One of the factors for classification was relevant experience, which should have only included experience with Durham Public Schools. Instead, experience from the private sector or other school districts was also included.
“We have asked administration to identify sufficient funds by Thursday’s board meeting that will allow employees to keep all pay received through Dec. 31, 2023, and to be paid at the same rate for January 2024,” DPSBOE Chair Bettinna Umstead said after a Monday school board meeting.
After receiving emails earlier this month announcing that the raises would be reversed, some DPS employees expressed anger and frustration, resulting in walkouts that have disrupted bus routes and school schedules. Paul LeSieur, the chief financial officer for DPS, was suspended with pay on Jan. 12 in response to the revelation of the overpayments.
"A lot of people have literally quit second jobs because they thought they would be making more money," DPS employee Valerie McNeil told ABC11. "They've invested in homes and cars, and now they don't know how they're going to pay for it."
In addition to bus routes being impacted, the Parent Teacher Student Association at Jordan High School contacted the community asking for volunteers to come collect garbage on the school’s campus because no custodians were working.
The raises in October were in response to the results of a salary study by the school system that recommended making salaries more competitive for certain staff workers. Affected staff workers included maintenance workers, bus mechanics, counselors and grounds and cafeteria staff.
Employees had largely been under the impression that these raises were correct, following the school board’s decision to raise salaries based on work experience.
The school board has promised to both bring in an outside financial consultant and have its attorneys look into the error and determine how to best rectify the situation with employees.
“School employees are very upset, and they should be. The district failed in both its policy decisions and its communication with employees,” said Symone Kiddoo, Durham Association of Educators president, in a video statement. “The disrespect has been felt by all staff, not just the classified workers whose pay was affected.”
The association has called for a rally outside a Board of Education meeting scheduled for Thursday, which is set to take place at 5:30 p.m. at 2107 Hillandale Road.
Two of the association’s three original core demands — that money already paid not be sought back and that paychecks for January not be affected— have since been met by Monday’s announcement. The last demand was for there to be greater transparency and a stake in decision-making.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Jazper Lu is a Trinity junior and managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Holly Keegan is a Trinity sophomore and a university news editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.