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CMS says erroneous bonuses were human mistake, not systemic failure

Ann Doss Helms

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is telling 225 teachers who received bonuses in error this month to pay that money back. CMS Superintendent Crystal Hill says those bonuses were a simple mistake, not a systemic failure like the one that plagued Gaston County Schools for more than a year when that district upgraded its system.

“[It was] one person who made a human-error mistake because everything is keyed by hand,” Hill said on Thursday.

But she says the payroll system conversion that tripped up Gaston County Schools is coming soon for CMS.

When the state approved a plan to replace outdated computer systems in school districts, CMS and Gaston County both stepped up as early adopters. But with the distractions of the pandemic, Hill says CMS put their project on hold.

“Some districts paused. Gaston went ahead and went on,” said Hill.

Gaston’s new system rolled out in January 2022. More than a year of erroneous paychecks and other problems ensued, leading to teacher protests and a lawsuit.

CMS got a small taste of that earlier this month, when 225 CMS high school English teachers got bonuses they were not entitled to. The payments of $1250, which came from federal COVID-19 aid, were intended for new teachers in areas where the district has critical shortages. CMS notified the teachers who didn’t fit that description that they must repay the money.

Hill says CMS can no longer wait to upgrade its payroll system, even though any big transition brings the potential for snarls.

“I’m terrified, to be honest with you, to be starting it. But we have absolutely no choice. Our system is end-of-life. It will die in 18 months,” said Hill.

CMS has just requested proposals from vendors, so it’s not yet clear whether the district will use the same state-approved system that Gaston County did. Hill says CMS has been watching and learning and will extensively test any new systems before switching over.

“You need to be running both systems at the same time to make sure that they’re matching up before you go with the go-live,” said Hill. “The other thing is that you have to make sure that we’re providing lots of communication to our staff.”

Hill says in four to six months, teachers and other certified staff will start using a new automated system to record their time.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.