Boston Public Schools has yet to pay thousands of teachers and other educators millions of dollars in pay increases for the last school year and most of this fall — one of the most egregious in a growing number of payroll problems that has their union calling for an audit.
The pay increases were part of a three-year contract ratified four months ago by the Boston Teachers Union, which had been working without a contract for a year. That contract calls for union members to receive at least 9.5 percent in pay increases over three years, beginning retroactively in September 2021.
Consequently, BPS owes about 9,000 current and former union members a total of more than $16 million — but hasn’t cut the pay checks yet and still doesn’t know exactly how much every educator is owed.
“Not paying employees what they’re owed or on time shows disrespect and disregard — and educators have had enough,” Jessica Tang, the union’s president, said in a statement. “The delays and issues are impacting not just employee morale but also impacting staffing for students. The district and city need to audit its accounting and payroll operations immediately. The district must address these egregious delays and demonstrate it can fulfill this basic employer responsibility.”
According to Boston Globe calculations, the average retroactive check for teachers could be about $3,000. The Globe based its calculations on state data that indicates the average teacher salary in Boston is more than $100,000 a year and the period during which the pay increases were not reflected in union members’ weekly pay was Sept. 1, 2021, to Nov. 17, 2022.
Educators’ other concerns largely center on extensive delays in stipend payments for work already completed. One teacher with a law degree also threatened possible litigation during a School Committee meeting last week, noting the new contract is supposed to finally pay teachers with law degrees the same rate as those with doctorates, but continues to pay them less.
BPS indicated for weeks the retroactive checks would be issued on Jan. 20, but walked that promise back earlier this month when it notified the union the payments would be delayed until at least Feb. 17.
BPS issued a public apology for the delays.
“We are committed to providing excellent service and support for students and staff alike, and we sincerely apologize to any impacted staff for the recent delay in retroactive pay,” Max Baker, a school spokesperson, said in a statement. “We understand this has caused hardships to those affected, and we are working to issue payments as soon as possible.”
The union’s calls for an audit come as the state is closely monitoring the school system, which two state reviews over the past three years have characterized as stuck in systemic dysfunction that is impeding the academic progress of tens of thousands of students. The latest review, issued last May, resulted in a district improvement plan that already has BPS cranking through several operational reviews, including special education, transportation, and safety services.
However, the district improvement plan didn’t call for auditing payroll or other business functions, including human resources.
BPS said figuring out how much is owed to each union member is time-consuming and complicated, and includes a variety of policies, procedures, and union contract rules.
According to the teachers union contract, pay scales for union members vary based on the positions they hold, such as teachers or paraprofessionals, and can include pay steps based on years of experience, academic degrees, and additional college credits.
The school system also needs to issue payments to current union members and those in good standing who departed BPS anytime between Sept. 1, 2021, and Nov. 17, 2022.
But other problems appear to be impeding BPS’s efforts this year. In notifying the union about the delay, BPS told the union it was experiencing data problems, according to the union, and warned there could be further delays. BPS, for instance, recently received a large payroll file from the city for the period covered by the retroactive checks and now is trying to reconcile it with its own records to verify whose eligible.
Since last week’s School Committee meeting, Tang said she has had several conversations with both district and city leaders who acknowledged the urgency to fix the pay issues.
“Our educators are proud to work in Boston Public Schools and because we want to both attract new talent and retain our committed staff, we are raising these issues to get them resolved so that it doesn’t become a reason why anyone leaves or doesn’t come to work for the district,” she said. “This is solvable, can be fixed, and needs to be fixed immediately.”
At last week’s School Committee meeting, several educators told members how the payroll problems has been affected them.
Nathan Eckstrom, an English as a second language teacher at Boston Adult Technical Academy in Bay Village, said teachers at his school have collectively submitted paperwork for roughly $50,000 in stipends in October, but BPS is still processing the payments.
Separately, Eckstrom said he and other teachers also experienced an approximately six month delay in getting stipends paid for work they did last summer and had to apply public pressure to get what was owed to them.
“For me, it doesn’t seem like it should be necessary to wage a public campaign to be paid for work you have completed,” he said. “There’s something wrong with payroll. I don’t know what the School Committee can do to fix it, but it’s broken.”
Theodore Smith, an ROTC coordinator at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, said he has been fighting BPS for more than two years to pay him correctly, and had his pay reduced. Even after an arbitrator ruled in his favor, as well as others in similar positions, he still hasn’t got what BPS owes him.
“Simple communication would clear up a lot of these issues,” Smith said.