Dozens of teachers in Charleston County still waiting for first paycheck

The issue impacts 43 new employees, most of whom are teachers, teacher assistants or educational coaches.
Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 5:45 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 21, 2023 at 6:53 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - It’s not a glitch in the system or an error by the finance department but by design that dozens of teachers in the Charleston County School District will have worked for up to six weeks before receiving their first paycheck.

In an effort to make sure teachers are not being overpaid, any new employee who started after Aug. 19 will not receive their first paycheck until the last payday of the month, Sept. 29.

The issue impacts 43 new employees, most of whom are teachers, teacher assistants or educational coaches.

Board members and veteran teachers alike are calling on Superintendent Eric Gallien to change the district’s payroll practice.

“They barely have enough to live here without getting a paycheck for six minutes. The cost of living is ridiculous in Charleston,” Jody Stallings, a director with the Charleston Teacher Alliance, said. “We have had to scratch and claw and beg just to get a living wage and now for them to have to wait six weeks to get paid that wage, that’s absolutely absurd.”

School Board Chair Pam McKinney also voiced concerns recently in an email to the superintendent asking for immediate action. She says she found out about the situation on Monday.

“I was aghast! How could this happen? Who can work that amount of time without a paycheck?” McKinney wrote to Gallien on Tuesday. “I ask for you to have this rectified in 48 hours. I would like to think it is already being resolved and we just don’t know. This would be a huge black eye for our District in the media not to mention recruiting, not just teachers but other staff as well. More importantly, we need to value our teachers!!”

Internal emails requested through a Freedom of Information Act request show concerns were raised behind the scenes at the highest levels of district administration nearly a month ago. The emails suggest tension between the human resources department and finance department.

Chief Human Resources Officer Bill Briggman and Susan Watson-Bell, director of certified recruiting and staffing, wrote to the interim chief financial officer, Jacque Carlen, on Aug. 25 asking about the payroll practice.

“Quite a few [employees] have shared that they did not expect to wait six weeks to get a first check,” Watson-Bell wrote, asking if there is any way to speed up the paychecks for those employees.

In response, Carlen says this has been district practice for several years and says the payroll schedule was covered in new hire orientation. She also reminded the HR department that payroll is “a finance function.”

In an email to Gallien on Aug. 28, Carlen says the practice started after an audit of the payroll department in 2017 and an overhaul to “iron out these HR/payroll issues and staff”.

Part of that effort involved creating a time and attendance schedule and breaking employee annual salaries into 24 equal checks that are sent out every two weeks. The pay schedule shows teachers working between August 20 and September 9 will get paid for those two weeks on September 29.

Staff are generally contracted to work 190 days. For staff who start late, a portion of that first check is deducted so they’re not being paid for days they didn’t work.

“The 2016 fiscal crisis was caused by a lack of internal financial controls, and based on an external audit recommendation, the district converted to 24-pay periods per year for all employees. The time and attendance process ensures accurate fiscal stewardship. Deviation from the process will cause internal risks in CCSD’s financial management system and will go against the recommendations made in the audit report,” the district wrote in a statement.

According to the pay schedule, there were paychecks that were sent out on Aug. 31 and Sept. 15 but did not include any payment for new employees who started after Aug. 20. Stallings says the district should be cutting checks to those employees immediately.

“Isn’t the last thing you think you’d have to deal with is getting your paycheck? Would anyone else do this? Would a construction worker put roofs on a house for six weeks without seeing a single penny of their pay? I don’t think so,” Stallings said. “I mean, I have seen hostages that are treated better than that. It’s absolutely ridiculous what they are doing to these teachers.”

It’s unclear if the district is taking any special action to get the paychecks out earlier but in an email to the superintendent, Carlen says the system is in place for a reason and should not be changed.

“I don’t recommend we change our payroll process on this or avert from the time and attendance schedule. It puts the district at risk for overpaying employees and it creates another ripple effect in our seamless payroll processes,” Carlen wrote. “By continuing our current practice, we can also ensure employees are not overpaid if they turn in their notice.”

The district has released the following response about the superintendent planning on taking any action to get the employees affected paid before the end of the month.

Superintendent Gallien has taken the time to review the concern in collaboration with our payroll department and has confirmed that the New Hire Orientation sessions contained relevant payroll information. Dr. Gallien has asked that, in addition to the information shared during New Hire Orientation, the impacted employees receive an additional notification of the payroll process. The additional notification was sent on Wednesday, September 20, 2023. Staff members will be paid on September 29, 2023.