Payroll problems continue at Windham Northeast Supervisory Union

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BELLOWS FALLS — Teachers and staff at the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union said they need answers to a payroll problem which has been going on for months.

Lily Hart, the past president of the WNESU teachers' union and a member of the current grievance committee, said the problem is widespread throughout the different schools in the district and affects different employees with a varying degree of seriousness.

Hart, who teaches foreign languages at Bellows Falls Union High School, said the problems range from lack of direct deposit, inaccurate deductions, and lack of updates on deductions on health insurance, health savings accounts and retirement, among others.

David M. Clark, chairman of the Windham Northeast Supervisory Board, said Monday that the school board has invited all teachers and staff to attend the board's meeting on Wednesday to outline their problems with the payroll. Clark, a Westminster resident, is a member of the Bellows Falls Union High School board.

He acknowledged there is an ongoing problem with the payroll, which he blamed on a relatively new accounting software the supervisory union adopted last year.

He said the software lacked real technical support, and the problems just mushroomed in some cases.

Christopher Pratt, superintendent of schools, couldn't be reached Monday because of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

"I do not think we're gonna have everything solved Wednesday night but I've already expressed to [Superintendent] Chris [Pratt] and [Business Manager] Edie [Cole] that we need to take careful notes about what staff members are telling us and come up with a written response to their concerns and that this needs to occur in the very near future," Clark said.

The problem aggravated a new problem, he said, since there is a new contract settlement with the support staff in the district, and so far some of the support staff employees have not received their wage increase and back wages, since the settlement covered retroactive pay.

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"Come one, come all!" he said, referring to Wednesday night's meeting. "Payroll" is one of the first items on the.agenda, under "communication, public comments."

Deborah Wright, who is also a member of both the BFUHS and the WNESU board, said she was under the impression the payroll deduction problem had been resolved since she hadn't heard any complaints since Christmas. Wright said she couldn't reach any of the supervisory union staff on Monday because of the holiday. Wright is vice-chairwoman of the supervisory union board.

Hart said the deduction and payroll problems first surfaced with the Nov. 22 paycheck. Staff and teachers are paid every other week, she said.

She said teachers and staff received very short notice that in some cases direct deposit of their pay would not be possible, and employees were told to come pick up their checks at the business office in Bellows Falls.

"It's not possible for us to provide an exact, or even an approximate, number with any sort of accuracy, but we can say that, judging by the number and variety of complaints that we've heard, the problem is widespread," Hart said in a followup email.

"Two things that are most concerning to us are the lack of accuracy in a variety of aspects of payroll (to name a few: timing, double deductions, and deductions not headed to the accounts that they're meant for) in many and various cases across the supervisory union, and a lack of communication from the business office about the full extent of the problem," she said.

"They have responded, but in a reactive rather than proactive way. This, in turn, has made it challenging for employees to be proactive about the difficulties that may arise in their own finances as a result of the problems the SU has been experiencing," she said.

Wright said she knew that after the holidays finances were likely tight for some employees, and the payroll problem only made things worse.

The WNESU board will meet Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the central office, which is located in the old St. Charles School. A budget meeting at 5:30 p.m. precedes the regular meeting.


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