Teachers call out Baltimore County Public Schools for withholding pay, human resources woes

The school system says a team has been created to improve customer service to employees, and a customer service center is being launched to focus on employee and retiree needs.

Published on: December 06, 2022 12:58 PM EST|Updated on: December 06, 2022 11:09 PM EST

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Bianca Salemi, a Baltimore County middle school teacher, was expecting to see a pay bump this week, just in time for the holidays. This coming Friday was to be the first week that educators saw higher pay as a result of a new pay compensation package. But when she previewed her paycheck, the amount was less than usual.

Usually, $300 is deducted for federal withholdings; this time, $550 was taken out, she said. Salemi said this wasn’t the first time she had gotten less money than expected.

“I’m tired of not being treated like a professional,” she told The Banner. “Tell me another career that if this was happening to their pay, they would just be expected to deal with it until someone fixed it.”

Salemi isn’t the only teacher who isn’t receiving full compensation. The Teachers Association of Baltimore County said in a news release that it planned to confront county schools leaders about the issues at the Dec. 6 school board meeting. Not only is more pay being withheld, but mistakes with benefits, delays in tuition reimbursement and stalled certification have educators fuming.

In a news release, TABCO offered examples of what it says educators have been facing. An elementary school teacher must pay significant fees because her daughter was unexpectedly dropped from her health insurance plan. Another teacher’s son was looking at thousands of dollars in medical debts because a mistake went uncorrected for months. And a sick teacher, who was dropped by their health insurer, has been avoiding the doctor’s office and its out-of-pocket fees.

“TABCO reports that nearly 5% of their members have faced ongoing issues” with the district’s human resources departments, the news release states, adding that educators will speak to the ways they have had to “delay or re-route their lives due to mistakes or delays from human resources and call for solutions to severe understaffing and inefficient systems.”

Educators are losing money because of the mistakes, the news release stated — not the right message to be sending as the district seeks to recruit and retain teachers amid an ongoing shortage.

“It was a frustrating process to figure out how to advocate for myself with different offices that don’t share information effectively,” said Brian Volk, a returning teacher, according to the news release.

In a message to staff obtained by The Banner, the school system said it was aware of the withholding issues on the Dec. 9 paycheck. The memo says they were caused by an “inadvertent error” made by the vendor that processes payroll and other business services.

“As a result of this error, there was an increase in the amount of money withheld,” the email states. “They will correct the error and re-run payroll immediately.”

The school system also sent a message to staff on Tuesday listing ways in which staff are responding to issues raised by the teachers union. For instance, a team was created Nov. 14 to improve customer service for employees and the system is launching a customer service center to respond to employee and retiree needs.

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“Team BCPS staff and retirees can expect to receive a response to their inquiries within 48 hours,” the message to staff stated.

Starting Wednesday, 16 clerical staff will be temporarily reassigned to the district’s human resources department. The system is also advertising openings for 12 full-time customer service representatives, four part-time staffers and one supervisor for the customer service center. The listings close on Saturday and the center will be open Monday through Friday, with extended hours two days a week.

The clerical support, the system stated, will run from this month to February 2023.

In September, staff notified the school board of benefit errors that affected 9,700 retirees. They were being overcharged or undercharged for their health benefits. It was due to a ransomware attack. At the time, the school system said the benefits office was facing hiring challenges, but created a call center so more staff could answer questions.

In a Dec. 4 post on Medium, TABCO said it polled its members on what was troubling them the most. According to the teachers union, 41% of educators said they experience problems with certification and tuition reimbursement, 21% said they have issues with payroll and 17% report issues with benefits.

“In response to the question of how long members wait for help, 28 percent have been waiting up to two months for assistance,” the post states. “Fifty percent have been waiting two to six months. More than 12 percent have been waiting more than six months, and almost 10 percent have been waiting more than one year.”

The problem isn’t with those working in these offices, TABCO says; they’re doing the best they can with the staff and resources they have.

“The problem is one of poor leadership and poor provision of resources,” the post says.

Salemi said that ever since the pandemic and the 2020 ransomware attack on the school system, which resulted in lost data, school staffers have faced issues with biweekly pay. She’s studying for her second master’s degree and is taking advantage of the system’s tuition reimbursement to pay for classes. She submitted her $900 reimbursement to pay for the next class but couldn’t proceed because she wouldn’t be reimbursed for three months.

She also submitted continuing education credits to the Office of Certification after finishing classes in August. It would have increased her salary. But she struggled to get in touch with anyone about it. When she did, she said, she was told there was a backlog. Still, nothing has been done.

“I’m now owed over $1,000 at this point,” she said.

Salemi said she heard the HR department is understaffed, but so are the teachers.

“I still manage to get in there everyday to do my job,” she added.