Broken Arrow Schools Sick Pay Issue Raised

Friday, January 30th 2009, 3:42 pm
By: News On 6

By Jeffrey Smith, The News On 6

BROKEN ARROW, OK -- Broken Arrow Public Schools is accused of dishing out a quarter of a million dollars in illegal payments.

State Rep. Mike Reynolds says the district violated state law by cutting checks to 160 employees for their unused sick days over a four-year period. Even the interim superintendent is caught in the middle.

Broken Arrow parents say the allegations are heartbreaking.

"I'm disturbed," Latrisha Simmons said. "I mean, it's disturbing information."

"It needs to be for the kids, not for the teachers," said another parent, Candy Smith.

Reynolds says the district paid $242,000 for unused sick days.

"There are administrators that are just being selfish, and obviously they don't have the kids' best interests at heart," Simmons said.

Broken Arrow school workers get 10 sick days a year. After 120 days, at least 12 years of employment, the district cut a check for any unused days.

A school spokesman says it was "an extra benefit for experienced employees." But Reynolds says it's against the law.

"Once you accumulate more than 12 sick days, you lose them," Reynolds said. "So they were just paying people, rather than allowing them to lose them. They can say it's a benefit, fine. But they did acknowledge to me that it was illegal. And, in fact, Gary Gerber himself called me a couple hours ago, and acknowledged that it was illegal.

Gerber is the interim superintendent, and Reynolds says he's one of the dozens of employees who took advantage of the policy.

The policy was discontinued four years ago.

Gerber refused to comment, but the district sent out two press releases saying the practice was acceptable.

But many parents are outraged, and they say that money should have stayed inside the classroom.

"Where are my tax dollars going?" said Gary Heimbach, a Broken Arrow parent. "They aren't going to the kids."

Reynolds would not say how he obtained the data file with the employees' financial information but says his records have been verified by the district's human resources department.

Broken Arrow officials claim other school districts in the state were doing the same thing over that time period.