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Accounting oversight results in faculty debt, dismay

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This updated version of the story does not contain inaccurate information that appeared in the earlier version of this story. To read the complete correction of the earlier version of this story, please click here.

BY NILE KENDALL

On Jan. 20, fashion design teacher Vincent Martinez received a letter from APS telling him he had 10 days to determine how to pay back $1,286, either through one lump sum or through his next six paychecks.

At the start of this school year, Martinez’s monthly paycheck was reduced by $100 in order to adjust his salary to the correct amount. He joined APS in 2002, when new teachers were paid at a higher salary step as an incentive to join the teaching force. The incentive ended in 2005, and the district did not adjust his salary until six years later.

APS director of media relations Keith Bromery said Martinez and 133 other educators in the district received the letter because of a human data-entry error, which was uncovered by an APS audit. Bromery said this mistake occurred at the start of the school year and that APS had only been overpaying these educators for “about three or four months” before the error was caught in December.

Martinez, however, believes he owes nothing. He said because he was placed back on the correct salary step at the start of last semester, he has not been overpaid for the current school year. Martinez believes the district is forcing him to repay his $1,286 excess salary from last year, which he feels is unjust.

“They’re double dipping is what they’re doing,” Martinez said. “This is just an example of how incompetent they are downtown.”

THE LETTER

According to multiple media accounts, the district sent the letter to 134 educators. It explained that a human resources salary audit revealed a $234,000 salary overpayment. Each educator owes different amounts, but the average repayment is $1,700. Employees were given two options: have the money deducted from their paychecks from March to August or turn in a lump-sum payment by March 5.

Martinez has chosen to do neither and has sought legal council.

“Based on my attorney’s advice, I emailed human resources and told them to put everything on hold because I disagreed with their findings and to not proceed until I conferred with my attorney,” Martinez said. “I have not heard back.”

Four other Grady teachers also received the letter from the district—among them AP calculus and statistics teacher Andrew Nichols, who was ordered to pay $1,229 and economics teacher Nadia Goodvin, who had to pay $1,448.

FRUSTRATION WITH APS SPENDING

In the wake of the APS cheating investigation, 120 APS educators were placed on paid leave, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported. These employees have job protections under state law, which entitles them to a public employment hearing before they are fired. The district has been delaying these hearings, however, to keep from disrupting the ongoing criminal investigations. The district currently spends around $600,000 on leave salaries each month, according to the AJC.

Along with having to pay leave salaries, which the district has spent more than $6 million on since the investigation began in July, the cheating scandal has also come with other hefty bills, including almost $700,000 in legal fees and $363,000 in bonus fees the district has been ordered to pay back to the Georgia Department of Education, according to the AJC. The district is also anticipating a $60 million shortfall next fiscal year if it doesn’t curb spending or pull from savings, according to a report released by the Associated Press.

APS superintendent Erroll Davis has plans to start getting some of that money back. According to the AP, Davis said many educators are expected to resign or retire in the coming weeks, and after that, the district plans to pursue some of the more outstanding cases. Davis said these cases will be easier to prove, and once they have these educators’ confessions, APS will begin taking them off the payroll.

PATIENTLY WAITING

Martinez has been one of the few teachers in the district to go public with this matter, appearing in different newspapers and on newscasts around the city.

“Last year, when I received the letter telling me I was at a higher step level, I went through the proper channels, and nothing happened,” Martinez said. “So this time I pulled some of my media contacts with the AJC, 11Alive and WSB News.”

Despite his efforts, Martinez is now at a standstill and said he is waiting until the March pay period, when he will learn whether or not the district will take money from his paycheck.

Bromery said that if Martinez does not inform the district of his payment decision before March 5, he will be contacted again.

Martinez remains steadfast in his decision to fight and said he does not plan on backing down anytime soon.

“There’s no gray area here,” Martinez said. “APS is wrong across the board, so I guess we’ll see what happens in March.”

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Accounting oversight results in faculty debt, dismay