School district, union reach agreement over overpaid wages

01/13/2012 5:18 PM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead High School

The Riverhead School District has reached a settlement with one of its unions to recoup thousands of dollars overpaid to about 125 employees in the 2010-11 school year.

But the district will eat more than half the nearly $20,000 that was overpaid, according to school officials and News-Review calculations.

In an agreement approved at Tuesday’s school board meeting, obtained by the News-Review through a Freedom of Information Law request, the Civil Service Employees Association agreed for certain employees — those at the top step of its pay scale — to only take a .25 percent “off step” wage increase next school year to make up for the difference in overpaid wages.

The union represents most non-instructional employees in the district, which includes bus drivers, cafeteria workers, mechanics and other maintenance staff, among other positions.

“This was an unfortunate oversight on the part of the district in the 2010-2011 school year,” Superintendent Nancy Carney said in an email.

According to officials, CSEA employees at the top of their pay scale were granted a one-time off-step pay increase of .5 percent on their regular salaries during the 2009-10 school year. When it came time for another such .5 percent increase in 2010-2011, the new raise took into account the  previous .5 percent salary increase, but it should not have.

In short, the district compounded the 2010-11 increase.

The .5 percent off-step pay raises were in addition to the 1.5 percent granted to all civil service union employees, most of which also received what’s called step increases. But since the top step employees did not receive an additional step increase, the .5 percent off-step increases were issued to compensate, according to the 2010 agreement, also received through a FOIL request.

“When something is ‘off-step’ it is akin to a one-time payment that does not count towards future increased earnings,” Ms. Carney explained. “The error in calculation occurred when the .5 percent increase was incorporated into the 1.5 percent increase year over year instead of held separately each year.”

One caveat of the settlement is that about 10 employees have already retired or will be leaving the district prior to 2012-13, and thus will not be required to pay back any money.

“When a mistake happens in payroll in which employees are overpaid, the law does not permit the district to simply dock future earnings to make up for past mistakes,” Ms. Carney said.  “The law requires the district to either sue each overpaid employee individually or negotiate a settlement of the issue with the union at large.”

About 125 employees were overpaid somewhere between $130 and $175 in 2010-11, Ms Carney said.

Considering a median of $152.50 for 125 overpaid employees, the mistake would have cost the district more than $19,000. Using that calculation, the district would eat $1,525 for employees who left the district and half of the $17,500 paid to 115 remaining employees.

The memo is signed by Ms. Carney, school board president Ann Cotten-Degrasse, local CSEA president Arlene Chastaine and labor relations specialist Sergio Diaz.

Ms. Cotten-Degrasse deferred all comment to Ms. Carney. Ms. Chastaine could not immediately be reached for comment.

vchinese@timesreview.com