March 9, 2007, 3:20PM
99 teachers told to repay part of bonus
HISD blames a computer glitch for overpayments
By ERICKA MELLON
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
Ninety-nine HISD teachers who received performance bonuses are being told this week they have to pay back an average of $745 because the district accidentally overpaid them.
HISD officials said a computer programming error led them to overpay about $73,700. The mistake caused the 99 part-time teachers and other instructional personnel to be paid as though they were full-time employees.
The affected teachers should receive a form from Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra this week giving them the option of having all the money deducted from a single paycheck or spread out over 10 pay periods.
The amounts range from $62.50 to $2,790.
"Although this affects less than 1 percent of HISD's 12,500 teachers, the error should not have been made," HISD spokesman Terry Abbott said in a written statement. "We regret it and apologize to those instructional staff members."
The head of the HISD's largest teachers union, however, is advising her members to keep the money.
"If it's the district's error, then the district should bear the loss," said Gayle Fallon, whose Houston Federation of Teachers represents about 6,500 employees.
"If you tell someone they deserve money and put it in their bank account, you've got a helluva nerve taking it back."
Fallon said she is encouraging teachers not to sign the form authorizing the district to deduct the money from their paycheck. Without the signed form, the district can't take back the money, Fallon said.
"And if they direct them to sign it, we'll see them in court," she added.
Asked to respond to Fallon's comments, Abbott said simply, "The money will need to be returned."
Principals at 52 schools are meeting with employees in person this week to explain and apologize.
Series of missteps for HISD
This is the third time Saavedra has been forced to admit an error since the district doled out $14 million in bonuses in January.
His first apology came after he referred to the teachers who received top bonuses as "the cream of the crop," drawing criticism and angry e-mail from offended employees who didn't get bonuses.
Later, the district realized it overlooked several hundred teachers in the initial payout, so it cut an additional $1 million in checks.
Abbott also said officials have corrected the programming error, and he added that HISD officials remain committed to the incentive pay plan, which seeks to hold individual teachers accountable for how much their students improve each year on standardized tests.
Steve Antley, a Marshall Middle School teacher who serves as president of the Congress of Houston Teachers, called the overpayment mistake "unbelievable."
"It's just another example of how poorly thought out and planned the whole program was, so it's not surprising these kinds of mistakes are being made," said Antley, who did not receive a bonus.