12/11/11 — Schools get edict to alter 10-month pay schedules

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Schools get edict to alter 10-month pay schedules

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 11, 2011 1:50 AM

A new state law designed to eliminate paperwork for public school employees is expected to stir up backlash, as two-thirds of teachers, administrators and other school workers could be socked with higher insurance premiums and bigger gaps between paychecks.

Districts across the state must comply with a law passed this summer by the General Assembly, doing away with prepayment of salaries, effective July 1, 2012. Beginning with the 2012-13 school year, school systems will change the way its 10-month employees are paid.

The changes are expected to affect between 1,500 and 2,000 of the estimated 3,000 full- and part-time workers in the district paid on a 10-month basis.

Employees are given the option of having their paychecks spread out over 12 months, said Nan Barwick, assistant superintendent for finance. Those in that situation are not expected to have as many problems when the proposal goes into effect, she said.

House Bill 720 is essentially a "school and paperwork reduction act," she told the board Monday night.

Earlier legislation required districts to pay 10-month employees their first full paycheck on Aug. 31. Many of them, though, had returned to work mid-month, placing them in "prepayment status."

For 12-month employees, that is not typically an issue, she said. But anyone who leaves the district before year's end could find themselves owing the school system money.

The way the system is set up, 10-month employees have their pay divided up over a 10-month period -- the first paycheck in August, the last one in May. With the proposal, they will not receive that first paycheck until mid-September, a gap of almost three and one-half months.

Mrs. Barwick said the district plans to issue checks mid-month from September through December, moving to the end of the month from January through June.

There are already potential problems looming, Mrs. Barwick said.

In addition to departmental changes -- payroll staff has been reduced from five to three employees -- the biggest concern will be health insurance deductions.

Currently, an employee with coverage for himself and family has a deduction of nearly $760 a month. Starting in November, that is expected to jump to $850, then $865 in December and $885 in January.

"That's outrageous," Mrs. Barwick said. "I feel for these folks. We have had countless meetings to come up with some magic. There's no magic."

She said she plans to talk with principals today and then start disseminating information to the staff.

Ideally, she would be able to do similar presentations at each school. Timewise, though, that is impossible to accomplish.

"My plan is to, after the first of the year have one general session ... invite all who want to come out, ask questions, have a question-and-answer session, try to help them transition through this," she said.

She said she is doing everything possible to comply with the law, just as other districts across the state must. But she is not happy about being the bearer of such news.

"I don't like this," she told the board. "We know we're probably going to be real bad guys. We're the messenger."

She noted that she had spoken with someone from the School Boards Association who mentioned the possibility of an extension, another year to prepare for the changes.

"If that was an option, I probably would choose that," she said, suggesting the board needs to be braced for the backlash. "You're going to get questions. I don't expect you to answer them.

"We're going to do everything we can to help them get through this. But it's not going to be easy, I tell you that."

Board member Rick Pridgen said he favored Mrs. Barwick bringing the information to the forefront, both through the board meeting's televised format and the proposed public forum. Mrs. Barwick said it is vital, since organizations like NCAE, N.C. Association of Educators, have recently sent out information -- some true, some not quite "up to par" -- and she wants to ensure accurate information is released.

Meanwhile, when asked whether she had heard about the possibility of employees changing, or even dropping, some of their health insurance coverage, she replied, "I would not be surprised."