Investigation finds more than 150 DeKalb County teachers were not paid for entire semester

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Channel 2 Action News has learned the DeKalb County School System has failed to pay more than 150 teachers for an entire semester of online teaching.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher found out that school administrators admit the program was mismanaged from the start of fall semester.

The school administrator who oversees all of the district’s online instruction told colleagues in early January, “We messed up ... That’s the bottom line.”

That and other revealing remarks about the depth of the problems were recorded, and Channel 2 Action News has reviewed the video.

Nonetheless, an official statement from the district twice claims “there was no mismanagement.”

The most pressing complaint for some 175 teachers at Flex Academy is the lack of a paycheck well after the semester was supposed to end.

The teachers signed contracts promising them $6,500 for online work in addition to their classroom work.

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The fall semester ended a month ago, and still no pay.

But in its statement to Channel 2 Action News, the district said so-called adjunct teachers (not full-time online) would have their payroll processed after final grades were posted.

The district says that date was Jan. 14, but our source -- who wishes to remain anonymous to protect their job -- disputes that.

In the Jan. 7 meeting recorded and reviewed by Channel 2 Action News, Dr. Keatra Wright told teachers, “Let’s get to the money. I know that’s what you are here for. We are processing payments (this) upcoming week. We are hoping to submit those, so that you will get paid by the end of the month.”

But much of the meeting was devoted to blunt expressions of the district’s shortcomings and their possible effects on the nearly 3600 students enrolled in Flex Academy. “Understand that it’s not the kids’ fault. That first couple of week -- not just a couple, six weeks -- it’s not their fault. It was an almost impossible situation,” Wright said.

Wright and other administrators saw it coming, despite their denials to Channel 2 Action News.

In a Nov. 19 email, Wright listed problems such as “unprecedented enrollment, technology failures, miscommunications and staggering workloads.”

In the January meeting video, Belcher listened to her say, “We basically beta tested this program on 3000 students. We messed up first semester, so we’re making up for that. That’s it. That’s the bottom line.”

Flex Academy is open to students in all of DeKalb’s middle and high schools. It provides online instruction in core and elective courses.

The district website describes the program as “flexible learning with excellence.”

But our source says teachers are unhappy about not just their delayed paychecks but bad planning -- such as online overcrowding.

We heard one teacher complain to Wright that she had seven sections of students in the fall and worried about having that many sections of 50 students each in the spring.

“You should not have seven sections,” Wright said.

“I hope not, because that’s a lot,” the unnamed teacher said.

Another complaint provided to Channel 2 Action News documents that students and teachers were so overloaded in the early weeks of the fall that the district decided by November it would approve a “huge reduction” in course assignments, which also reduced the workload for Flex teachers.

The Flex Academy guidelines call for students to do most of the work on their own.

Teachers are to spend 10 hours reviewing coursework, grading work, etc. but no more than 2 hours in direct contact with their students.

The online boss acknowledged a concern that students will sense a lack of connection:

“We are open to making sure that you can be the teacher that you need to be and not just have the students feel like they’re just sitting behind a computer, and somebody’s sitting behind a computer that does not care.”

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