Friday, March 09, 2007
Houston Teachers Asked to Return Bonuses
HOUSTON (March 9) - Almost 100 Houston teachers were asked this week to return parts of bonuses they received in January because of an error made by the school district that runs the nation's largest merit pay program.
A computer program mistakenly calculated their bonuses as if they were full-time employees, instead of part-time personnel, according to the Houston Independent School District. The error led to almost $75,000 in overpayments, with amounts ranging from $62.50 to $2,790.
The district said less than 1 percent of teachers were affected by the gaffe, but critics have said this is one more indication of what is wrong with a system that was unanimously approved by the school board last year over opposition from the teachers' union.
"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 middle school teacher Steve Antley, who did not receive a bonus.
Even before the program was implemented, critics said it was flawed and divisive. Then, shortly after the district doled out $14 million to almost 8,000 teachers two months ago, officials realized they overlooked several hundred teachers, so they distributed $1 million more.
The district is to give the 99 teachers and other instructional staff affected by the latest error the choice whether to have the money deducted from a single paycheck or spread over 10.
But the local teachers' union president advised members not to give the money back at all.
"If it's the district's error, then the district should bear the loss," said Gayle Fallon of the Houston Federation of Teachers.
The district won't be able to take back the money unless teachers sign a form authorizing it to do so, Fallon said. "And if they direct them to sign it, we'll see them in court," she said.