It might take an entire orchard of apples for Harrisburg teachers to feel appreciated this year.
The district is asking 65 teachers to pay back part of their past salaries, claiming they’ve been overpaid for two school years.
The district came up with the plan in response to a grievance filed last year by the Harrisburg Education Association, which said that 79 veteran teachers were being underpaid compared to 65 new hires.
The union filed the grievance hoping the district would raise veterans’ pay to make things even, but instead the district’s plan focused on cutting salaries they believe they overpaid.
In total, the district said they overpaid close to $500,000.
The union is stunned.
“If a teacher had been overpaid, allegedly, the district is now going to be requiring them to pay that money back,” HEA vice-president Michele Rolko said.
It’s not just paying back wages. The 65 teachers will also have their salary cut back from what their contract initially stated. The median amount that teachers owe is around $12,000.
“Not only would they have to pay back the $12,000, they would be losing that $12,000 in their annual salary, but they never said anything about paying the teachers that are underpaid,” HEA president Jody Barksdale said.
Sandra Hemphill is one of these 65 teachers. She has one of the highest bills to the school district — $28,000.
“My mother was diagnosed with dementia about a year ago, so we took them into our house to live with us, and I also take care of my sister who has special needs,” Hemphill said.
The union plans to fight the school district every step of the way, but if this plan were to go through, Hemphill’s options would be limited.
“I was heartbroken because now I have to look for a new job, and I’ve already established a relationship with the students I’m going to have this year,” she said.
Even though the district would stand to get back close to $500,000 in this plan, $1.9 million is already budgeted for the next school year to fix the HEA’s grievance.
Meanwhile, HEA officials are baffled because they said they created their own corrective plan which would only cost the district $320,000.
The district declined to explain what the $1.9 million would be used for or how they would go about collecting money from teachers.
If the HEA and the district don’t come to an agreement on their own, an arbitration date is set for Oct. 10.
HEA leaders want to make it clear that they reject the district’s use of “overpaid.” They said the new hires deserve the higher wage, they just want veteran teachers with the same education and experience to receive the same treatment.