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L.A. Unified payroll trouble cuts off healthcare benefits

Mostly substitute teachers are among 1,300 affected by the latest computer glitch.

August 30, 2008|Jason Song | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Unified School District's problem-plagued payroll system inadvertently cut off healthcare benefits to about 1,300 employees, mostly substitute teachers, who didn't work in July.

Substitutes who work the equivalent of 100 days during a school year are eligible for medical, dental and vision benefits the following year if they are still teaching, but the district sent a letter to some employees late last week informing them that their coverage had ended July 31.

District officials apologized for the error in a letter Aug. 28 and promised that medical benefits would be restored without a break in coverage, although some employees said Friday they still haven't been able to use their insurance cards to fill prescriptions or visit a doctor.

"They scared the hell out of 1,300 people," said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.

District officials said the problem occurred because L.A. Unified's payroll system was incorrectly programmed to cut off employees who are not on active status. Because many substitutes didn't work during July, the system sent them letters saying their medical coverage had been rescinded.

Some of the employees who received letters were not eligible for continued benefits and were appropriately dropped, L.A. Unified officials said, although they said they did not yet know how many fell into that group.

The officials said they are still working on glitches in the payroll system, which was launched in January 2007 and resulted in massive problems, including thousands of teachers being paid too much, too little or not at all.

Payment problems have since largely been resolved, district officials said.

"We'll continue to have some of these issues that crop up from time to time, and the only thing we can do is be prepared for knowing we'll occasionally encounter errors . . . and fix them quickly," said David Holmquist, the district's chief operating officer.

Duffy and other teachers union administrators said some members were forced to cancel medical procedures, including a skin cancer surgery. Many others had to forgo getting medical prescriptions.

Lauren Mora, who has been an L.A. Unified teacher for seven years, found out that her health coverage had lapsed when she tried to order birth control pills online Tuesday and was denied.

"I had a freakout. They're really important," she said.

Although summer months are generally slower for substitute teachers, there is less work this year because many campuses have stopped using year-round calendars and switched to a traditional schedule because of declining student enrollment.

Mora estimated that she worked about three days a week last summer, mainly at Broadous Elementary in Pacoima, but since the school switched to a traditional calendar in June, she said she hasn't taught at all.

"I'm just waiting for the first week of school and for the phone to ring," she said.

Holmquist said all employees should have their medical coverage restored by now, but Mora said she still hasn't been able to get her medication.

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jason.song@latimes.com

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