W-H pay lapses detailed; Report: At least 1 former employee kept getting money

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

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Long after leaving the district, at least one former Wilmer-Hutchins employee stayed on the payroll, according to a state management team report.

The report also states that the district has had problems maintaining proper controls in its human resources and payroll departments, and that has sometimes led to human resources director Lew Blackburn “inappropriately interfering” with how some teachers are paid.

“We’re trying to put in place the internal controls we need,” said Michelle Willhelm, one of the two state-appointed managers who now oversee Wilmer-Hutchins.

The problems are outlined in a management team report submitted to Texas Education Agency officials last week. The report summarizes a number of problems state managers have found with the way the district operates.

Several of the problems center on the district’s staffing systems. Those responsibilities fall under Dr. Blackburn, who is also a Dallas school board member.

“On at least one occasion, the HR Executive Director has failed to notify the payroll office of a termination of employment, resulting in the continuation of automatic direct deposit payments to a former employee,” the report says.

The report gives no details about the former employee who received the money. Ms. Willhelm said that she did not remember specifics but that she thought the employee remained on the district’s payroll for months after ceasing to work for the district.

Dr. Blackburn could not be reached for comment. But Ms. Willhelm said Dr. Blackburn told her that the reason he didn’t have the employee removed from the payroll was forgetfulness. “It just got by him,” she said.

Ms. Willhelm said she did not have any reason to believe there was anything intentionally improper about Dr. Blackburn’s actions.

“We’ve dealt with these concerns,” interim Superintendent James Damm said. “Everyone needs to do their own function so the possibility of collusion is done away with.”

Ms. Willhelm said she did not know whether the former employee in question was Gerald Henderson, the district’s former maintenance director. Mr. Henderson stopped working for the district in 2002, but a portion of his salary remained in the district budget through last year – despite Mr. Henderson’s claims that he was not receiving any of the money.

It was a stack of documents relating to Mr. Henderson that former Wilmer-Hutchins Superintendent Charles Matthews allegedly ordered a district employee to destroy in September. Dr. Matthews was indicted on felony document tampering charges in November.

The report also criticizes Dr. Blackburn for “inappropriately interfering with payroll functions,” including reviewing all school authorizations to use substitute teachers before allowing the payroll department to issue paychecks. As a result of Dr. Blackburn’s interference, Ms. Willhelm said, some substitute teachers were not paid on time.

“He was trying to manage by interfering with the system,” Ms. Willhelm said, adding that Dr. Blackburn was trying to cut spending by avoiding improper use of substitutes.

Dr. Blackburn also is criticized in the report for not responding to open-records requests in a timely manner. Some citizens and journalists have complained about district records not being turned over under the requirements of state law. As a result of the complaints, responsibility for open-records requests has been removed from Dr. Blackburn and passed to the superintendent’s office.

In other Wilmer-Hutchins news, state District Judge Kent Sims instructed attorneys in a case questioning the residency of a Wilmer-Hutchins school board member to submit briefs by mid-February.

Board member Vornadette “Sha Sha” Brewer was among those testifying in the case Thursday. Ms. Brewer is school board President Luther Edwards’ sister-in-law, and plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege she does not live within the school district’s boundaries.