DeKalb County teachers miffed over problems with pay raises

DeKalb County School District Superintendent Steve Green (with students) said the district’s human resources division is in need of “a total inside-out overhaul.” (AJC FILE PHOTO)

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DeKalb County School District Superintendent Steve Green (with students) said the district’s human resources division is in need of “a total inside-out overhaul.” (AJC FILE PHOTO)

Evansdale Elementary School first-grade teacher Cynthia Trapanese expected to get a $3,000 raise when the DeKalb County School District’s new salary schedule went into effect. It was supposed to reflect 2.5 percent raises as well as a revised pay schedule for teachers, part of a compensation and class study completed last summer.

Instead, her check this week included an additional two cents, retroactive to Jan. 1.

“I’ve got a lot of questions,” said Trapanese, in her third year with the district. “It looks like the money isn’t going to teachers.”

VIDEO: Previous coverage of this issue

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The district says it is promising competitive salaries.

Issues with the salary schedule were met with quick action from the district's administration. Superintendent Steve Green said the schedule would be scrapped and the process would start anew. Chief Human Capital Management Officer Bernice Gregory resigned Friday morning, effective immediately.

Superintendent Steve Green said flawed calculations were found in the new schedule, discovered after a team review late Thursday. Initially, he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the problem was largely a misunderstanding by teachers on how the new step structure would work.

“After further analysis, we re-evaluated our calculations to ensure fairness. We found some egregious errors and want to make sure the raises are correct,” Green said. “We need to recalculate the step process for everybody. We need to go in and correct the whole thing. We found some flaws in the algorithm.”

Teachers, who were expected to benefit greatly to changes in the district's latest effort to make sure it was being competitive while seeking new educators, have taken to social media to voice their frustrations after receiving far less on paychecks this week than was advertised. Many feel the district's new salary structure included significant raises for administrators — including premium pay for regional superintendents with advanced degrees — while neglecting those at the front of classrooms.

According to DeKalb County School District officials, the district currently has about 102,000 students and nearly 6,862 teachers working in 138 schools.

Henri De Vastey, a Lakeside High School French teacher, said he expected an annual raise of about $1,200, receiving $600 this year in a prorated payment. Instead, he received a letter from human resources this week that he would instead receive $14.42.

“It’s going to be paid at a rate of 48 cents every pay period,” De Vastey said. “When I saw that, I said ‘What the hell?’ By operation of the tax codes, there’s always some kind of fluctuation between the December paycheck and January’s paycheck. They didn’t have to go make this big to-do.”

According to the human resources report on executive salary ranges, the seven regional superintendents were expected to receive 11.5 percent annual raises, from $133,000 to $148,500. It is not known what the regional superintendent actually received.

Chief Human Capital Management Officer Bernice Gregory presented the compensation and class study last July, showing efforts to make pay in the district more competitive to attract employees. The DeKalb County Board of Education approved a new salary schedule at its Jan. 7 meeting. Those numbers were different from the numbers presented in the compensation study, but still reflected raises and classification changes for employees.

But employees received a Jan. 15 email from Human Capital Management - the official name for the human resources department - saying the district’s salaries already were on par with neighboring districts.

“The result of the study determined that [the DeKalb County School District] was comparable to other school districts with the rate of pay that we offer and in most job classifications, we exceeded our competition, with our rate of pay,” the letter stated.

The team review of the new schedule on Thursday led Green to scrap both a letter and video he intended to release Thursday night to staff explaining the new salary structure and instead go back to the drawing board. Green said the district will hire an outside firm to conduct the analysis. And he concurred with what critics have long said about human resources in DeKalb Schools, that the department could use major change.

“It historically has been a challenge and we tried to patch it, but I think it needs a total inside-out overhaul,” he said. “We are not satisfied. There is significant change to come.”

The district's human resources department has come under fire in recent years for failing to fill teacher vacancies as well as lax background checks resulting in many hires that eventually were reversed, including a teacher hired in 2017 who had been fired from an Ohio school district for being verbally and physically violent with students, and a longtime French teacher hired as a substitute after being forced to retire in 2016 for making disparaging comments about immigration to students of color.