I want to offer my deepest apology to every Portland Public Schools staff member for the breakdown of our payroll system. I am writing today as an individual member of the Portland Board of Education, not on its behalf.

We have failed our staff whom we have not paid accurately or on time. And we have failed our entire Portland Public Schools staff for not communicating better as the crisis unfolded. I want to tell you about how we got here and the steps we’re urgently taking.

But first I need to fully acknowledge the hardships, anxiety and frustration that our staff are experiencing. Our staff feel demoralized and disrespected at a time of year that is particularly challenging financially for many.

It also comes nearly three years into the COVID-19 pandemic – the hardest years in the careers of many, if not most, of our educators. And it comes amid a backlash against public schools for seeking to honor the identities of all of our students and staff, create belonging and teach history accurately and honestly.

I’m devastated by the harm we’ve caused and laser-focused on both ensuring staff are paid their very hard-earned money and fixing the systemic problems so nothing like this can happen again.

Of course, that includes accepting any and all help from the city’s finance staff. The Press Herald, in its recent reporting on my emails with Mayor Kate Snyder, left out the context of our exchange – which was my asking for city and school finance staff to be able to work together without political interference. Absolutely, we need the help. Absolutely, we are so grateful for their time and expertise. I recognize that, in the moment, I should have been more gracious.


In response to the email exchange, I called and met with Councilor Mark Dion, chair of the city’s finance committee, and we discussed what help city finance staff could provide. This was well before I understood that our payroll system was in crisis.

How did we get here? I frankly don’t fully understand yet. Several years ago, the district moved to a new software system, MUNIS, which the city also uses, and it was not set up correctly. Instead, our payroll staff manually worked around the system, and when those staff were not there to run payroll – two left in recent months, and one went on emergency medical leave in October – the staff who stepped in did not know all of those manual workarounds. And as we attempted to fix specific problems in MUNIS, new problems were created.

What are we doing to rectify the situation? Starting last week, a staff person from MUNIS has been embedded with our team and is working to relaunch the software. On Monday, an outside firm, Spinglass, began a forensic audit of our payroll, meaning they will look at what each employee was paid compared to what they should have been paid, so we can ensure that every staff person was paid correctly. They are aiming to finish that work by the end of December. Spinglass also will make recommendations about our payroll staffing and controls.

We set up a fund to promptly reimburse staff for any fees or penalties they have incurred. And we are close to signing a letter of intent with a payroll processor and aim for that company to run payroll parallel to us by the end of the first quarter, as we fully transition to them.

While we’re on our way to fixing our payroll system, I know it will take far longer to rebuild trust with our staff, who were the last to deserve this as the heroes of our city for educating our children through the hardest of times.

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