- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 4, 2001

More than 100 D.C. school bus drivers protested in front of the school administration building at 825 North Capitol St. NE yesterday because of inaccurate paychecks and demanded that public school officials take corrective action.
Gathering after their morning runs on the final day of summer school, drivers and attendants fumed over paychecks that were short by hundreds of dollars and missed leave time. They complained that school officials treated them disrespectfully when they tried to have the problems corrected.
"My rent was due Wednesday and I was supposed to be paid last Friday," said veteran driver Edna Robinson, who received her check five days late. "They wanted to give me $250 to tide me over. That wasn't going to help me."
This is the latest in a series of disputes over ongoing pay issues, and the first time since last summer that the drivers protested. School transportation and finance officials met inside with the drivers to try to resolve the problems.
"It was a very good opportunity to understand the issues firsthand," said Bert Molina, the new chief financial officer for the school system. "We are going to resolve these issues once and for all."
But drivers said they don't expect any changes.
"They keep telling us the same stuff over and over to get us out of there, then do nothing," said Regina Pixley-Davis, a driver. "This has been going on for years."
This dispute arises amid already high tensions between the transportation staff and top school officials trying to revamp the department, which has been plagued by high absenteeism rates, nepotism, interference into reform efforts and staffing shortages.
Part of the problem, school officials said, is that the payroll process is centralized in the city government, making it difficult to exercise control over the school payroll. Another issue is inexperienced and sometimes corrupt timekeepers on bus lots, who inaccurately track the hours employees work. Ensuring accurate work data can occur only when employees sign in and out accurately.
"We want everyone to be paid properly every single day they work," said Transportation Administrator David Healey.
Some school officials also said drivers are upset because the practice of allowing employees to take paid leave whether they have it or not has been discontinued. They acknowledge that some checks have been late, but said drivers are overstating the problems.
School officials said yesterday they have fired three timekeepers found to be helping themselves to unauthorized overtime amounting to more than $17,000, and have asked the inspector general to investigate for possible criminal charges.
Next week, school officials plan to create a "SWAT" team to straighten out payroll issues. They said they also plan to purchase a new payroll system designated solely for the school system and install computerized time clocks.
"We need to clean the slate and make sure the system works," said Chief Operating Officer Louis Erste. "This is not rocket science."

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