More than five times as many Portland Public Schools employees have been affected by the district’s payroll crisis than district officials previously reported.

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 Dec.6. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

A total of 750 employees, about half of the district’s workforce, have communicated with the district that they have or had payroll or payroll-related issues such as not being paid correctly, on time or at all since October. Of those, 400 involve missing pay, school board Chair Sarah Lentz said on Monday.

At least 115 of the cases have been resolved and 300 of them are not necessarily problems but queries related a range of issues that include retroactive pay or inconsistencies in pay, Lentz said.

This new information was gathered by district leaders who went to the city’s schools to speak to staff and ensure all payroll issues were documented.

The information shared by the board Monday shows that the extent of the district’s payroll issues is much greater than was previously known. Last week, before District Superintendent Xavier Botana deployed district staff to schools, he said that a total of 140 employees had been impacted by payroll and payroll-related issues – including queries regarding benefits or how to access records.

“We now believe we are closer to understanding the full scope of those issues,” Lentz said.


Lentz did not answer questions about how many total employees are represented by the 400 missing-pay issues and how many of the missing-pay issues have been resolved, but said she would continue to share information as possible.

Botana did not respond to questions Monday afternoon about how many individuals have or had pay missing. Botana has said he will no longer respond to questions from the Press Herald, citing displeasure with its coverage.

The district’s payroll issues, which have left some employees struggling to pay for food and rent and burdened with interest and fees, began in late October, following a few months of significant staff turnover in the payroll department. Botana has cited the turnover, software problems and a lack of staff training as the cause of the payroll problems. But outside auditors warned district leaders in the spring, before the significant turnover, that their financial system was vulnerable to problems due to a lack of built-in oversight and checks and balances.

City officials became aware of the district’s payroll issues in October when a member of the school district’s payroll staff asked city finance staff for assistance after overpaying a group of employees by $57,000. Mayor Kate Snyder and City Council Finance Committee Chair Mark Dion reached out to former board Chair Emily Figdor requesting a joint finance committee meeting to discuss the issues but Figdor rebuffed the request.

Around four weeks later, the district shared at a school board meeting that it had been having payroll issues, but minimized the problems.

The payroll issues continued for around six weeks before roughly 50 district school employees showed up at a school board meeting to demand accountability and that the district solve its issues.

The district and its educator unions on Wednesday signed a legally binding agreement outlining how and when the district will remedy its payroll issues.

Lentz, who succeeded Figdor as board chair last week, said the board is working on a plan to repair the harm done and plans to start meeting with teachers and staff this week in an effort to regain trust from district employees.

“We acknowledge this will not be a simple or short fix, but know we must be investing in our relationships with teachers, staff and community members now more than ever,” she said.

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