In each of the past three pay periods, the Portland school district has failed to pay 80 to 90 of its 1,600 employees accurately, cutting checks for the incorrect amounts and failing to pay some employees on time.

This comes more than a year after the district decided to outsource payroll because of a prolonged crisis in which Portland Public Schools failed to properly pay hundreds of its employees. The fiasco led to mass complaints by employees and their unions and the resignation of former Superintendent Xavier Botana.

The district began transitioning to a new payroll software, ADP, in January. The finance and payroll department still has some kinks to work out, but it is continuing to make progress, Finance Director Helene DiBartolomeo told the school board at a committee meeting Monday night.

She said many of the issues the district now faces only require one-time fixes and that once the finance department does the needed problem-solving, the system should run more smoothly.

“ADP is a really cool system, but in that it’s a really cool system there are also complicated things,” she said. “There’s a lot to still be learned.”

The district’s payroll is complicated and has a lot of variables, Superintendent Ryan Scallon said in an interview Tuesday afternoon. The district has employees in five different unions that use five different pay structures. There also are non-union employees and employees who work multiple jobs for the district and are part of more than one union.


Ryan Scallon, superintendent of Portland Public Schools

The Portland school district teacher’s union president, Kerrie Dowdy, did not respond to questions Tuesday about the continued payroll challenges.

Although some of the payroll issues are the fault of the finance department, others the result of errors by employees who, like the department, are learning a new system, Scallon said. The district does not know the breakdown of employee versus department errors.

Scallon also noted that the district is paying the large majority of its employees – 94% to 95% – accurately.

“We’re not talking about something large scale,” he said.

Scallon said he understands the significant impact inaccurate or late pay can have and said the district has acted quickly to remedy any issues. The most recent payroll was on Friday, and as of Monday all incorrect pay had been corrected, he said.

The district expected hiccups with the new system, School Board Chair Sarah Lentz said.

“I think any time you’re moving from one giant system to another, with thousands and thousands of pieces of data that have to be moved over, there is room for error,” she said.

She said she is in daily communication with Scallon about payroll challenges and how they’re being fixed.

“There is ownership on central office’s part to understand the problems and fix them quickly,” Lentz said.

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