Posts tagged ‘DOE’

Where’d the dough go? Silly answers to a great question (DOE Part 3/3)

In my last post, I got a bit carried away whining about how the NYC Department of Education gives independent contractors a raw deal and then denies payment even after you accept that deal. So, what ever did happen to those payments? According to the NBC report, the DOE says the reason why thousands of providers went unpaid for months (still counting, for many) is because they were awaiting “required documentation.” However, as I described in my previous post, the only paperwork they ever requested was invoices and approval letters. Their contract says that from the time I send those, I should expect payment in 6 weeks (that’s weeks, not months). Thousands of providers did exactly what the DOE said, and were only informed of additional “required documentation” after calling repeatedly to ask why they hadn’t been paid. Now, I won’t dispute the DOE’s right to request additional documentation of services rendered. However, they have no right to withhold payments for services provided before these requirements were in place, and if they do decide they want more junk from us, they need to tell us clearly and in advance of the requirement. I should have received a letter, email, or phone call over the summer or accompanying my case approvals for this year saying something like “Dear Contractor, Please note that as of September 2012 you will be required to blah blah, and we won’t pay until you do.” Instead, what happened was that hundreds of unpaid workers individually clogged up the DOE phones asking for their money, and were told “But you didn’t sign up with the QRST system.” What QRST system? Never heard of it. Where do I find it? What do I do? It would also be nice if the “additional documentation” were less cumbersome and redundant. Since finding out about the new requirements, I have had to:

  • Sign up for a “vendor portal” by entering my name and SSN – they already HAVE my name and SSN, why don’t they just add me to their database when they approve me for the service in the first place? Wait for approval/confirmation.
  • Sign up for “SESIS” the same way – Again, can’t they just combine their databases? Wait for approval/confirmation.
  • Get approved for “PETS” by emailing someone to ask them to approve me. I still don’t know the significance of this.
  • Something about fingerprint verification which I had to do when I first started this job, my fingerprints haven’t changed since then as far as I know. I also had to get fingerprint clearance when applying for my teaching certification in the first place, so if they know I’m a certified teacher they should be able to find my fingerprint info on file somewhere.
  • Call “IVR” to record my start dates for each student. Note that my start date is also listed on the original service approval form, so again, they ought to have this info down somewhere. Wait for them to be added to my SESIS file.
  • Go back to SESIS and enter all my attendance data. Note that my invoices also need to include the exact dates and times of attendance. My guess is that they need us to record it twice so that if we ever make a typo so they don’t match, they can accuse us of perjury and invalidate our whole month on both systems. Anything to avoid paying up.
  • Download a new invoice form that will only work properly in the most up-to-date version of Microsoft Excel. Type my attendance and billing information into this form, which takes a lot because with the way they pay me I haven’t upgraded my computer in years, and of course the computers in the school I work in are provided by the DOE and are only to be used directly with the students. This would be considered my “personal” use so I’m on my own. And their form doesn’t translate well with old programs.
  • Also new on the forms this year are start and end times. You used to have to write only the length of the session. Since I first caught wind of this only a few months into the school year, do I now need to reconstruct history to figure out when I saw kids before my schedule was finalized? For years they wanted total time, so that’s what I recorded on my attendance sheet every day. Oh, and instead of typing right into the form, I need to choose those times from drop-down lists of 5-minute increments from 6AM to 9:45PM. A minor hassle, but why?

…and that’s before you can even think about getting paid. By the way, after using the new computerized invoice, you still need to print it out and mail it in together with copies of the original approval letters and “P4” forms for each student – as if they can’t keep a record of who’s approved for which services. So I’m not sure how much they gain by computerizing the thing in the first place. I’m in favor, theoretically – now when they lose my papers, it will be easier for me to print off a fresh copy. Meanwhile, I’m already losing track of how many different systems I’m signed up for, which one had which password, and what I’m supposed to use them all for.

Fortunately, for all its exciting twists and turns, the system apparently does work eventually and people are finally getting paid for the work they did in September. Strangely, many have found discrepancies between the amount they billed and the amount received. So the phone calls begin again. Since I haven’t been paid yet this year (not to worry, it hasn’t yet been six weeks since I completed my scavenger hunt of “required documentation,” so no complaints there…) I don’t know if they’ve streamlined this part, but last time I had to call about missing funds it took over a month. First you get bounced around from one desk to another until you hit a dead end where someone’s away from their desk and the voicemail box is full. Then you get a person who says that the person you need isn’t there. Then you finally get the person you need, and they say they’ll look into it. You melt with gratitude and wait for them to get back to you. You go on waiting until you realize they aren’t getting back to you, and then you try again. So far, these are the reasons we’ve been given for the discrepancies:

  • Not sure, will look into it further, have to ask someone else in a different department whose voicemail box is full.
  • Their mistake, don’t know how it happened, but they’ll fix it – let us know if you don’t receive the money someday.
  • Session lengths must be a multiple of 15 minutes. Some or all of your sessions weren’t, so they rounded it DOWN for you (and then they want you to teach kids that rounding is to the nearest. And that in some situations you need an exact answer without rounding). I got this excuse. I have never seen this rule documented anywhere, and I read all the fine print available. My approval forms say “Session length: a period.” That year, the school I worked in had 40-minute periods.  Note that they did not round the total number of minutes to the nearest 15; they rounded EACH SESSION down to 30 minutes, essentially docking 25% of my pay for the month. This was for three months: the first one, another 6 weeks waiting for that payment, and the third month ended and was invoiced while I was chasing them by phone trying to correct what I thought was their mistake. Note that this was the first time I heard of this after several years of billing exactly to the minute, either it is something new or they are inconsistent about it. But the lady on the phone acted like it was something I should have known through common sense or something.
  • You can’t work for 6 hours straight without a lunch break. So, they penciled a lunch break into your schedule and didn’t pay you for the students you saw during that time. Why is this any of their business? We’re independent contractors, supposed to get paid for services provided – not employees whose every minute can be scheduled. If I want to eat a big breakfast and then see as many students as I can get in a day while just holding off until dinner, what right do they have to care? And again, if they do decide to care, they need to make this clear in advance instead of declining to pay for services already rendered.

Note that for the 15-minute and 6-hour policies (extra credit if you can find a book of these policies and share it with those who rightfully need to know), there is no way to get that money back. They said they’ve already processed the invoices, that month is closed on your case and there’s no going back – besides, they already know you saw the kid for 40 minutes at a time, so if you now claim otherwise, the untruth is rather transparent. As for the future, you can imagine the headaches involved in trying to fit a dozen kids’  schedules into 15-minute increments, especially if you work in a school where some periods are 40 or 50 minutes.

All I want to know is why they can’t just come out with a book of their policies and make it available to all contractors. This business is like telling students to do long division with decimals before teaching them how, and then waiting for them to finish before telling them that they got something wrong in the first step. Then you let them do it ALL over again before telling them that they got the second step wrong, too. Not nice.

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February 10, 2013 at 10:09 pm Leave a comment

Part II: How the NYC DOE gets teachers to work for free (or cheap)

My previous post shared some of the frustrations the Department of Education puts us through to get services for students in need. Now it’s time to expose how the DOE unconscionably rips off the special ed teachers and related service professionals who actually provide these services on the front. I pointed you to this NBC report, but that only tells half the story: it only addresses the payments that were delayed, not those that were altogether denied, and it makes no mention of the obstacle course the DOE puts us through to get any payment at all – not to mention the payments that disappear altogether.

There are two stories here: The DOE’s internal problems of inefficiency, incompetence, and unfairness which cause ignorable inconveniences to ignorable little people like me, and their major mix-up this year that turned the entire population of independent SETSS providers on its ear. SETSS stands for Special Education Teacher Support Services, and independent contractors provide these services to students who do not receive them directly from DOE employees, usually because they attend a non-public school by choice. Since special education services are the school district’s responsibility regardless of school placement, the DOE is supposed to reimburse the providers for our work.

Our contract isn’t great, but there isn’t any room for negotiation. Because it’s up to the parents to find an independent provider for their children, the DOE simply doesn’t care if you don’t want to work on their terms. Let the parents go crazy trying to find someone who will sign on to it. Among the terms of the service:

  • You’re only paid for time when the student’s body is actually there with you. Spent 30 minutes traveling to his house only to wait for 15 minutes at the door until you realize nobody’s home and they forgot to tell you? Tough. What other professional would accept this? Every therapist I’ve ever visited requires 24-hour notice of cancellation in order to cancel the bill as well. Even an hour would be enough for me to save my travel and waiting time, and possibly even squeeze in a different client. How about the kid who got suspended and needed a week’s worth of home-based curriculum coordinated with all his teachers and communicated to him at home? Hours at my desk and on the phone. No body in school, no money.
  • You’re required to tend to all of the child’s special education needs, including attending IEP meetings, collaborating with general ed teachers, etc. Again, no pay for this time. We’re not even talking prep time, but actual in-person meetings mandated by the DOE about the student’s services. But you only get paid for “direct” teaching time.
  • Provide make-up sessions only during the same week, but not on the same day as a regular session. Most students are mandated to receive services 5 days a week, so there isn’t any day that isn’t the same as a regular session. So, that student for whom you killed an hour because they were absent with no prior notice? Forget about getting that hour back. No matter how much school work he missed during his absence, which will be harder for him to make up due to his special needs, you get your same one period a day to catch him up. If he was absent for a week, that’s a week’s worth of income you’ll just never see.

Well, it’s their game, so we play by their rules. I sign on the dotted line agreeing to the above terms (among others). I mail my signature in to the CSE (Committee on Special Education – the ones in charge of these forms) and, if all goes well, I get back an approval letter. Theoretically, I shouldn’t work with the student until I get the approval, but that could take a month – a month in which they’re supposed to get services, not slip ever farther behind their general ed peers. So I just sort of count on the approval coming. The approval letter says that at the end of each month, I should send an invoice together with a copy of the approval letter and expect payment within 6 weeks.

  • Question: Can’t they just keep a database of which services they approve? Why do I need to make copies of your own approval letter to send back to you over and over again every month? *cue moans of dying trees*

Here’s where the fun starts. So far, it’s all been logical: I sign to their rules, do what they said, complete the invoices, copy the approval letter, and wait for the check in the mail. Instead of a check in the amount I’ve billed, here are some examples of what I (and others) received instead:

  • A check for 75% of the amount I billed. No explanation for the difference.
  • The exact same papers I sent in, stamped “Received,” with a note saying I haven’t sent them (I sent back the EXACT same set of papers again, just swapping the to and from addresses and re-paying the postage. This time they found nothing missing. *shrug*)
  • A message saying that my handwritten invoices are invalid because one date was corrected with white out
  • A message saying that my handwritten invoices are invalid because from now on all invoices must be typed
  • And finally, this year’s new zinger: A letter saying that I can’t bill for services until I sign into a series of websites with exactly the same information, and then communicate with a bunch of people to say I did so.

I oppose overlong blog posts on principle, so since my word count is again approaching 1,000, I’ll save the autopsy for the next post. Spoiler: I will never recover the missing 25% of that paycheck, but that didn’t bring me to tears as the rest of the frustration did. It only gets better.

February 6, 2013 at 10:18 pm 1 comment


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