Touchet School District misses payroll

The district failed to pay Dec. 18 and the superintendent has blamed a 'glitch in the system.'

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TOUCHET — A glitch stole Christmas for a number of Touchet families.

Employees of the Touchet School District expected to be paid Dec. 18, the last working day of the month.

That’s the way it’s always been, and that’s what the employees’ contract specifies.

Instead, some teachers and staff are dealing with overdraft charges, cancelled travel plans, and Christmas trees bereft of gifts.

An e-mail sent to employees Dec. 14 by Superintendent Dan McDonald said payday would be delayed until Dec. 22, due to a "glitch in the system."

The glitch may be a culmination of a series of mistakes, but so far, "we’ve been told three or four different things, and we’ve tracked those down, and that’s not what happened," Touchet Education Association president Cathy Plucker said this morning.

McDonald told the school board Thursday checks were delayed because of a problem with Washington School Information Processing Cooperative, a firm that provides information processing services for more than 280 school district in Washington. Payroll is one of many services provided.

Plucker said the board was concerned about the problem.

However, Plucker communicated with personnel at WSIPC, who said it was not their problem, but an internal problem in the Touchet District.

This is not the first time at least some employees have not been paid. In November high school coaches were not paid, and middle school coaches weren’t paid the month before.

One theory put forward is that the payment software was thrown off by the request to pay coaches for two months’ salary in one check.

There may have also been a delay in getting a check transferred from the county treasurer to the bank. The district’s fiscal officer makes the transfer in person.

Superintendent McDonald did not return phone messages or an e-mail. Board Chairman Darren Goble had not returned a phone message by press time today.

Checks are printed in Yakima, and those who receive paper checks picked them up at the school office.

"The paper people were pretty happy, until they went to their banks. The checks were dated the 30th, and most banks wouldn’t take them," Plucker said.

Plucker had discovered earlier that direct deposits were also scheduled to post Dec. 30.

There are several families where both husband and wife are district employees, and for them the glitch has been a double whammy.

Teachers Deborah and Jorge Ortiz are among those couples.

The late paychecks caught them off guard, Deborah Ortiz said in an e-mail. "My husband and I both have direct deposit and we both have to wait. I don’t care what the excuse is, we depend on our paychecks and plan accordingly. This has made for a stressful time.

"The district is blaming it on several reasons but personally I don’t believe it matters. We were not paid on time and that is unexcusable," Ortiz wrote.

As TEA president, Plucker is hearing many stories of consequences of the late paychecks.

One woman had to return gifts to have money to buy groceries.

Another teacher had scheduled an automatic payment, which went through, causing an overdraft.

The glitch has created some heartache beyond financial ones. One person wasn’t able to attend the memorial service in Portland for lost climber Katie Nolan because there was no money for the trip.

Another teacher was forced to tell her 4-year-old there wouldn’t be presents under the tree.

Plucker is at a loss as to what to tell people who call her.

"People are calling me, and they’re either crying or they’re angry, and I don’t know what to tell them. My stomach is churning," she said.

Plucker is as frustrated as everyone else.

"I don’t understand why it happened, and I feel really bad for all the employees in the district. I’m just really disappointed that someone somewhere couldn’t unlock that money for us in time," she said.

Carrie Chicken can be reached at cec@innw.net or 522-5289.

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