School board questions why payroll issue took so long to resolve

Published 12:10 am Thursday, March 2, 2023

SALISBURY — A Rowan-Salisbury Schools official provided an update during the school board meeting on Monday that seemed to finally put a payment processing error from last year in the rearview mirror. Board members still took aim at the issue and ultimately wanted to know why it took so long to correct.

The Rowan-Salisbury Schools chief financial officer Faith Lambeth addressed the board on Monday.

“There was a processing error in November that resulted in retirement not being withheld from teacher’s supplements,” Lambeth said. “As soon as the error was discovered, we reached out to our software vendor requesting assistance with correcting this error. It took our software vendor (Serenic) about 90 days to find a working solution to a very complex problem.”

That solution allowed the district to report those wages to the state retirement office and schedule the deduction in the affected employees’ payrolls.

“Last week, the software vendor notified us that they had found a working solution, and this allowed us to make the correction within the required 90-day period that the state retirement system gives,” Lambeth said. “We emailed employees as soon as we received the update from our software vendor.

“Since November, we have implemented an even stricter checklist for all payroll processing, as well as provided additional training and support for the entire payroll team.”

Lambeth pointed out that given a recent spate of turnover within the RSS payroll department, the most seasoned employee has less than a year of experience. Learning the system takes training. Lambeth said her team is pulling anywhere from “55-80” hour weeks trying to squeeze training for the software into their schedules.

“We are determined to turn this ship around and right it and to learn from these errors,” Lambeth said.

Recently elected school board member Jimmy Greene questioned why the issue took so long to correct.

“This has been a point of contention for staff,” Greene said.

He asked if the 90-day window was normal to correct an issue such as the one the school system was dealing with, adding that he felt it should have been handled sooner. Equally important to Greene and other board members was ensuring that the problem did not arise again.

The CFO explained that steps were underway to limit future mishaps.

“We have instituted an even stricter, more cautious program with regard to processing payroll and providing training with our payroll team with the software available to them,” Lambeth said.

School board member Brian Hightower acknowledged that he was glad to see the issue resolved but questioned whether the district had gone far enough to accept accountability for the mistake.

“When I screw up, I like to say I admit it and take ownership of it,” Hightower said. “I think our employees would like to hear that more than anything … we cannot keep having checks messed up. I hate to be like I am calling you on the carpet, but this cannot happen anymore.

“We sat on this problem for three months, and some of our teachers are still wondering. When you deal with people’s money, they want to know, not three months later, but a weekly update.”

Hightower said a mutual standard of expectation is necessary for the function of the school district.

“If teachers made as many mistakes as our finance department, they would be on an action plan or at risk of being fired,” Hightower said.

Greene added, “There are two things people get mad about having messed with, their money and their kids, and we happen to be in the business of both.”