Portland’s school district and the union representing its educators reached a legally binding agreement Wednesday that outlines how and when the district will fix payroll problems and creates processes for employees to recoup money if they were paid incorrectly.

The district, which has been plagued by payroll issues since October, already had agreed to do many of the things established in the memorandum or understanding but was not legally bound to those commitments.

Members of the public, mostly employees and their supporters, listen as Portland Public Schools’ Superintendent Xavier Botana speak before public comment at Portland’s School Board meeting on Tuesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Portland Public Schools has failed to pay at least 140 employees accurately, on time or at all. As a result, some employees have struggled to pay rent, buy food and pay other bills, and are now saddled with debt.

Portland Education Association President Kerrie Dowdy emailed her members Wednesday summarizing the agreement between the union and the district.

“The Portland Education Association, working with the Maine Education Association, has been negotiating with Portland Public Schools to ensure our staff are paid the money they earned and deserve not when the district figures out its issues, but by a firm date,” she said in the email.

Superintendent Xavier Botana confirmed that the district signed the agreement Wednesday.


According to Dowdy’s email, the district must implement the pay raises established in union members’ contracts by Dec. 16, must correct all inaccurate paid leave balances by Dec. 31, agree to have its payroll system audited and have an outside payroll firm in place within 30 days of the audit. The district also must pay a $100 fine per pay period to any union employee who was not paid stipends or retroactive pay beginning on Dec. 2.

Dowdy’s summary of the agreement also explained that there is a process for employees to recover pay if they are not paid correctly and a separate process for employees to be reimbursed for expenses incurred as a result of being paid incorrectly or not at all by the district.

Portland school board Chair Sarah Lentz said she’s pleased that the district was able to come to an agreement with the educator’s union to rectify the situation.

Lentz said that many of the solutions laid out in the agreement are well underway and that the district is continuing to work to address underlying problems with its payroll system and is working to rebuild trust by keeping open lines of communication with the Portland and state educators unions and the greater community.

“We see this as a great step forward,” she said.

District officials have pointed to software issues and recent staff turnover as the cause of its payroll issues, but the district was warned in the spring that its payroll system was vulnerable to problems.

Despite that warning and the serious issues that cropped up in the fall, including the overpayment of some staff by roughly $57,000, former board chairwoman Emily Figdor rejected an offer from the city to help the district. Around 50 district employees showed up at a Portland school board meeting Tuesday night to demand the district fix its payroll problems.

Neither Dowdy nor Botana nor Jen Cooper, who is president of the district’s education technician union, responded to questions about the agreement Thursday. Botana has said he will no longer answer questions from the Press Herald, citing displeasure with its coverage.

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