Portland High School
The main entrance to Portland High School on Cumberland Avenue. Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana said replacement of Portland and Deering high schools will remain a priority for the School Department after he leaves his post next July. (Portland Phoenix/Jim Neuger)
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Portland Public Schools staff reported 15 additional payroll issues in last week’s pay period as the district attempts to fix payroll issues that have lingered since October.

Audit results from Spinglass Management Group, a Boston-based business advisory firm, are expected by the end of the month. School officials hope they will paint a more complete picture of the school district’s payroll struggles, which resulted in the early resignation of Superintendent Xavier Botana last month. The district has also been in contact with the Maine Department of Labor and plans to provide the department with an update on what they’re doing to solve the payroll issues, according to co-interim Superintendent Aaron Townsend.

The district has corrected instances of employees being over or undercharged for medical and health benefits, Townsend said, and has made progress with rectifying issues with MainePERS, the public employees’ retirement system, and other voluntary deduction programs.

“We recognize it still takes some time to be reflected in participating employees’ accounts,” he said at the Jan. 17 school board meeting. The district has made a quarterly payment to MainePERS following reports that PPS owes as much as $3 million to employees’ retirement plans.

“We have also provided reconciliation reports to MainePERS through October, and continue catching up with the remaining months of November and December [2022],” Townsend added. 

The district is still looking to hire a payroll manager and payroll specialist. Officials said that payroll challenges originated from key staff members leaving, which left the department without any staff members trained in the intricacies of Munis, the municipal payroll software made by national firm Tyler Technologies. Turnover in key accounting positions has been flagged as a concern for PPS in past audits, dating back to 2020.

Issues with the MUNIS payroll system have persisted before October as well. Former School Board Chair Emily Figdor said in December that the system was initially launched with “fundamental errors.”

The district still plans to do cross-training with other finance staff to ensure there are multiple staff members who can adequately run the payroll system and ensure it’s not reliant on only one person, Townsend said.

PPS signed a letter of intent with payroll management company ADP on Dec. 31 to outsource payroll, as stipulated in a memorandum of understanding signed by the district and the Portland Education Association.

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