GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — More than one thousand people have signed a petition to get Gaston County School employees paid properly.
Ever since a new state-mandated payroll system rolled out in the district, staff members said they’re missing money, and for some complete paychecks.
The general assembly enacted a state law a few years ago that requires all school districts to modernize their operations by bringing them online.
“We were told in January that you know, these were bumps in the road and we needed to be patient and that these things would work themselves out,” Bobbie Cavnar, a Gaston County Schools teacher said.
Gaston County Schools was able to pick between two vendors, choosing when it wanted to roll out the new system it chose and what all it wanted to opt into, according to a school official.
On social media Wednesday, dozens of teachers across the state posted photos of themselves wearing red in solidarity with Gaston County employees. They used the hashtags ‘we can’t work for free’, ‘fix payroll now’ and ‘pay so we stay’ to get lawmakers' and state leaders' attention.
Cavnar said the errors staff are experiencing are extensive.
“Missing 401K payments, health premium payments that are missing,” Cavnar said.
“We started having problems immediately in January with teachers either not being paid or incorrect deductions or 401k payments not being taken out, or teachers overpaid,” Cavnar said.
Gaston County School is piloting the program.
"We are the first district to implement the Oracle system," Todd Hagan, a spokesperson for Gaston County Schools in an email. “It is important to point out that funds to pay employees are available, employees are being paid, and issues have been reduced significantly since January.”
Oracle, one of the operators has experience with payroll systems in education. On its website, it says they are the payroll operator for Baylor University.
WCNC Charlotte reached out to both Oracle and Cherry Road Technologies for an interview about how they’re addressing the problem. Neither Oracle nor Cherry Road Technologies responded to our request.
“With any payroll system, you are going to encounter issues," Hagan said. "Implementing the new payroll system has been complicated, frustrating, and overwhelming, but we are managing issues better than we were in the first few months of implementation, and we are striving to make the system work for us in an efficient manner."
The North Carolina Association of Educators President, Tamika Kelly, wrote on Twitter, “Contrary to reports its quote not just a handful of teachers experiencing the problem.”
“We are seeing hundreds of errors across Gaston County, affecting every teacher in Gaston County and all of our support staff as well,” Cavnar said.
North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction previously told WCNC Charlotte they’ve flagged the problem to system operators months ago.
One teacher wrote on Facebook, “Normally, I'd cringe at the very notion of talking so personally about money and pay. My southern mother would have considered it very bad form and nobody's business. But the situation has gotten too bad and too ridiculous to stay quiet.”
Gaston County Schools said they’ve received technical support from both Oracle and CherryRoad Technologies.
“In the business world, an employee is typically hired to do one job and is paid for working that one job," Hagans said. "In a school system, one employee may have two or three jobs. For example, an employee’s primary job is a teacher, but that employee is also a coach and a bus driver."
Hagans said Oracle only recognizes some employees as teachers only.
“We have encountered issues with the system not recognizing that the teacher also has to be paid as a coach and a bus driver," Hagans said. "This factor has contributed to the issues that we have experienced."
Cavnar said he and other teachers want more transparency from the district.
“Right now, there is no process for how we get issues resolved," Cavnar said. "And we when we call and we ask for help, we often don't get a reply. And so we want Gaston County to admit that there are hundreds of issues affecting hundreds of teachers that they have been ongoing for nine months."
Full statement from Gaston County Schools
In January 2022, we transitioned our payroll from an outdated system that was more than 30 years old to a system provided by Oracle, which is a global computer technology corporation. All school districts across the state will eventually be required to transition to a new system as part of the state’s school business modernization. We are the first district to implement the Oracle system.
It is important to point out that funds to pay employees are available, employees are being paid, and issues have been reduced significantly since January. With any payroll system, you are going to encounter issues. Implementing the new payroll system has been complicated, frustrating, and overwhelming, but we are managing issues better than we were in the first few months of implementation, and we are striving to make the system work for us in an efficient manner.
In the business world, an employee is typically hired to do one job and is paid for working that one job. In a school system, one employee may have two or three jobs. For example, an employee’s primary job is a teacher, but that employee is also a coach and a bus driver. Oracle recognizes the employee as a teacher and pays that employee as a teacher; however, we have encountered issues with the system not recognizing that the teacher also has to be paid as a coach and a bus driver. This factor has contributed to the issues that we have experienced.
In the first few months of implementation, we experienced a number of unexpected issues, which resulted in inaccurate pay for some of our employees. Since that time, we have seen a drastic decrease in the number of issues, going from hundreds when we first transitioned to the Oracle system to a few dozen or so that our payroll specialists work on as they occur. We complete an “off-cycle pay run” whenever there are issues in an effort to correct them.
Below is a list of several factors that have helped our situation:
▪ Third-party technical support from Oracle and CherryRoad Technologies was brought in (additional personnel on site) to assist staff with the transition, troubleshoot and address issues, and provide support for our payroll specialists, department financial analysts, and school-based financial personnel.
▪ Implementing the “off-cycle pay run” process helped us address issues. We continue to use this feature to make up for any pay inaccuracies that occur.
▪ Webinars and teleconferencing sessions were held to gain feedback, provide instructions, troubleshoot, and support our financial personnel at the both district and school levels.
▪ Staff worked with employees to help them get a better understanding of the Oracle system and how it works. We found that some of the issues for inaccurate paychecks was caused by incomplete information being recorded in the system. We had to help our employees understand that all time worked had to be recorded in the system for employees to be paid. This was a learning curve for us, and it has gotten better.
Any employee with an issue should let his or her principal or supervisor know so the principal/supervisor can make sure that our payroll department is aware.
While it has been extremely frustrating for employees, we appreciate their patience, understanding, and willingness to work with us. We are hopeful that using the system will continue to get better and that we will not experience wide-reaching issues like we did during the first few months of implementation. We continue to work diligently to address issues and correct mistakes that we have encountered as a result of the transition to the Oracle system.