‘What is the road out?’ Gaston County Schools employees still experiencing payroll issues; state treasurer communicating with district staff

GCS transitioned to the Oracle system in January.
The issues started in January when the district switched over to a new online payroll system.
Published: Sep. 8, 2022 at 7:35 PM EDT
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GASTONIA, N.C. (WBTV) - It’s been nearly eight full months since Gaston County Schools changed its payroll system, and hundreds of employees say their checks are still incorrect.

WBTV first reported on the payroll transition in February as the district transitioned to the Oracle system with the help of online support vendor CherryRoad Technologies.

The district sent a message to employees Thursday saying it is working to correct issues with longevity pay, individual payroll issues, overpayments, and deductions for open enrollment benefits.

Previous Coverage: Gaston County Schools continuing to correct payment issues due to new payroll system

Since then, dozens of employees said they haven’t been paid full paychecks, are not seeing their full retirement credits, missing supplements, plug-in pay, raises or 401K contributions.

Bobbie Cavnar has taught in the district since 2003 and said he has never seen complications like this.

“I didn’t receive a paycheck in June and it took them almost a month to get me my June pay and then in August my pay was $1,500 deducted and no one seemed to know why,” Cavnar said.

Cavnar said thankfully he was able to use money from his savings account but recognizes everyone is not as fortunate.

“There [are] so many people who work in our public schools live paycheck-to-paycheck and they can’t weather a sudden $1,500 deduction that they can’t explain or an entire month without a paycheck,” Cavnar said.

The transition to a new payroll system has caused issues regarding employee pay.

Other employees said this issue is affecting teacher assistants, substitute teachers, bus drivers, nutrition staff and custodial staff.

Employees said they are banding together and buying gift cards to support people who don’t have enough money to pay their expenses due to incorrect checks.

The district has since issued hundreds of paper checks and done off-cycle pay runs, but even at the start of the school year, officials acknowledge it is not fixed.

“With our payroll system, we have made great strides in making that system work for us,” Chief Communications Officer Todd Hagans said in mid-August. “We certainly had our challenges when it was implemented in January and we continue to face some challenges with the system.”

“Anytime you implement a new system there are going to be bumps along the road but we feel good about where we are and when issues come up we’re going to address them and we’re going to do what we can to make sure things are taken care,” Hagans continued.

The North Carolina Treasurer’s Office is keeping tabs on the issue and says retirement deductions haven’t been successfully uploaded since the spring.

“It’s very important that the vendor who has the responsibility for fixing this problem do everything humanly possible to figure out what’s right, get it right, and keep it right on behalf of those that teach or otherwise serve Gaston County,” State Treasurer Dale Folwell said.

The district sent a message to employees Thursday saying it was able to successfully upload the April file to the ORBIT retirement system and is now working on uploading files from May, then will continue with June, July and August.

The following paragraph is an excerpt of the district’s explanation of the retirement benefits.

“The delay in the file submissions has caused concern among some employees; however, the delay does not affect an employee’s retirement benefits. Additionally, there have been some questions about employees “losing interest” on funds in their retirement account. According to representatives with the state retirement system, the interest is calculated yearly, not monthly. Four percent interest will not be calculated/added until December 31, 2022 based on an employee’s account balance as of the last day of the previous calendar year (December 31, 2021). Not having the monthly contributions in the retirement system yet does not affect interest since the interest calculation happens only at the end of the calendar year.”

The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) sent a letter to the district in July and is considering legal action.

“We are exploring the possibility of further legal action. It is unacceptable that we are sending our educators to teach in schools and they cannot be paid for the important work that they do every day which is serving the community,” NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly said.

Both the NCAE and several employees are demanding transparency and said they’ve learned of ongoing issues including retirement on social media rather than direct messages from the district.

“We understand there are going to be bumps in the road and that it’s a new system and of course, there are going to be issues but we’ve been very patient,” Cavnar said. “It’s been nine months at this point, what we want most of all is the communication from the county.”

“The district needs to provide clarity of response and timely response for these educators who go into the classrooms every single day, who drive buses, and who feed children,” Walker Kelly said.

Several employees are planning walk-ins Friday morning.

“In the media, we keep seeing a downplaying of the issue and we’re hoping if we stand outside the school in the morning when parents drive in then maybe they’ll look into it a little and say ‘hey what is going on here’ and get the word out and get sort of a groundswell of attention to the issue and hope to get better communication,” Cavnar said.