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District sorry for payroll glitches

L.A. Unified officials apologize to employees for errors that left many without a paycheck.

February 14, 2007|Joel Rubin | Times Staff Writer

Contrite Los Angeles Unified School District officials expressed regrets to district employees Tuesday for problems with a new payroll system that have resulted in errors on thousands of paychecks.

"Let me apologize officially for this failure," said Supt. David L. Brewer, addressing the scores of district employees who protested the pay issues at a school board meeting Tuesday. "There is no excuse for it. I apologize to anyone who has been hurt by this."

Charles Burbridge, the district's chief financial officer, reiterated previous statements by senior staff that the complicated transfer from an antiquated computer system to the new one had been an overall success in a public agency with more than 90,000 employees. He described, however, how subpar training for timekeepers and their supervisors, insufficient staffing and technology glitches led to serious snafus during the first pay period under the new system.

As of Tuesday, nearly 7,000 emergency checks had been cut for employees who had either not been paid, been paid too little, or had some other problem with their checks, according to the district.

That number far surpasses the 1,000 employees district officials believed had been affected last week, and seemed certain to climb. Burbridge acknowledged that the district's telephone hotline continued to be overwhelmed. And a steady stream of workers arrived Tuesday at an office hastily set up last week at district headquarters to process claims.

"I've got house payments, everything," said Lawrence Williams, a groundskeeper at Sherman Oaks Elementary school, who didn't receive his paycheck and had been waiting for more than two hours at the help center. "This puts me behind. It's a real strain."

Brewer and Burbridge offered assurances that the district would "make whole" any employee facing eviction notices, bank penalties or other hardships because of the payroll problems.

Several things went wrong in the months leading up to Jan. 1, when the district "went live" with the $95-million system, Burbridge said.

A single eight-hour training session and online lessons for timekeepers were insufficient, as was the number of experts available to answer questions as timekeepers encountered problems, he said. Testing of the new system, he added, failed to uncover glitches that caused problems in cutting some checks for some types of employees, and the system crashed once for several hours.

All the computer snafus, Burbridge said, could be fixed and plans were underway to offer new training to timekeepers and supervisors. District leaders offered a special mea culpa to district timekeepers for public comments made last week, in which much of the payroll debacle was attributed to them.

Along with payroll, the computer system is slated to help revamp several district departments, including budget, procurement and human resources.


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