The Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center, which houses District 65’s central offices. (RoundTable file photo)

From September through December of 2021, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 did not withhold the correct amount of federal taxes from the paychecks of 33 newly hired educators in the district, according to sources with knowledge of the situation and an email to teachers from District 65 Educators’ Council President Maria Barroso.

The payroll mistake by the district resulted in those 33 teachers wrongly receiving higher take-home pay, according to District 65 Director of Communications Melissa Messinger. In an email to members of DEC dated Jan. 14, Barroso wrote that union representatives were in contact with the legal team from the state teachers group, the Illinois Education Association. 

According to Barroso’s message, the educators affected by the mistake “may have to pay a penalty to [the] IRS.”

“DEC is trying to see what we can do to help these new hires,” Barroso wrote in the email. “Meanwhile, DEC needs veteran educators to talk to the new hires and ask them if they are alright. Please show them support and let them know we are addressing the issues.” 

In an email to the RoundTable, Messinger said the district is aware of the mistake. She said there was an error made when processing the paperwork for new hires over the summer, and district administrators have consulted financial advisers and a legal team to decide how to proceed. Additionally, she said, the district contacted all 33 employees affected by the mistake to give them an opportunity to meet with the administration. 

“This was largely the result of an internal transition of staff responsibilities while managing a significant number of hires,” Messinger told the RoundTable. “Employees who should have had taxes withheld were labeled in error as being exempt from tax withholdings, which resulted in higher take-home pay.”

The 33 teachers will owe taxes on the pay they received in the last months of 2021. The ultimate legal impact, if any, of this situation on District 65 is unclear.

“As an organization, while the District does not expect any fees to be assessed as a result of the clerical error, the District is committed to making each impacted employee whole and supporting them until the situation is fully resolved,” Messinger said. “Because every individual’s financial situation is unique, including their tax status and selected withholdings, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach, which is why we are committed to and have been working diligently with each impacted employee on an individual basis.”

Barroso and other DEC leaders did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the RoundTable. 

The district did not identify the specific cause of the tax deductions mistake, but its Human Resources Department is in charge of onboarding employees, while the Business Services Department runs payroll. District 65 does not currently have a permanent HR chief. Andalib Khelghati, former Assistant Superintendent of Schools, became interim Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources in July 2021.

Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...