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Payroll system still problematic

JENNY LING
Last updated 05:00 04/06/2014

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Laborious, time-consuming, ongoing glitches, a debacle, a complete disaster.

They're not words used to describe getting a Russian visa or organising a wedding in winter.

It's how Auckland principals talk of Novopay, a controversial $182 million web-based payroll system implemented in 2012 which has been plagued by ongoing problems.

But it's getting better - slowly.

Mt Albert Grammar School principal Dale Burden says the system has improved since "the complete disaster" it was when it started.

The number of errors in teachers' pay has decreased, but it's still time-consuming, he says.

"It's definitely getting better but with the amount of money that's gone into it, you wouldn't expect it to be worse.

"We wouldn't be making that level of mistakes if we ran our own payroll.

"It's quite frustrating because it's fundamental - they're not mistakes we would make."

One Tree Hill College principal Nick Coughlan says Novopay was originally a "right royal mess".

Laborious paperwork and long waiting times over simple queries are ongoing issues, he says.

"There's no doubt that in the last four to five months there have been some significant improvements.

"But to improve where things are, to where things need to be does feel like an enormous gaping gap.

"There is still a way to go."

Novopay processes the pay of 110,000 teaching and support staff at 2457 New Zealand schools.

The Ministry of Education purchased the system at a cost of $182 million over 10 years.

In the first pay round, 5000 school staff were underpaid and 15 were not paid at all.

Auckland Normal Intermediate School principal Jill Farquharson says there are still a few glitches.

Problems include processing sick leave and annual leave for support staff.

Relief teachers also have the incorrect dates on their pay slips, Farquharson says.

"These sorts of things haven't been ironed out yet.

"But on the whole, I would say it's significantly better than this time last year."

Burden says the main problem at Mt Albert Grammar is the pay for the school's 80 to 90 support staff including office workers, business managers and groundsmen.

And the school had to create its own database to keep track of annual leave. "It's hugely time-consuming," he says.

"They can't calculate leave accurately, or anything accurately actually.

"Quite frankly we would rather have been left alone to do it ourselves."

Gladstone Primary School principal Dave Shadbolt still has people being over or underpaid by about $100.

In the last payroll there were two mistakes - hours were entered incorrectly for support staff and the coding was wrong for one teacher.

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"The start of this year was the best since it started," Shadbolt says.

"There's a lot of form filling that has to go on but I guess that's all part of their process, trying to get things right."

So far it's cost about $30m to fix Novopay. Labour's education spokesman Chris Hipkins says almost 2000 schools still face problems with it.

"Novopay still has more than $9.3m in debts to recover and ongoing errors are creating hundreds of thousands of dollars in new debt," he says.

The minister responsible for Novopay Steven Joyce says work is continuing to further improve its delivery.

As at the end of April, there were 18,058 overpayments worth $18.8m dating back to when Novopay first started.

More than half of that debt, $10m, has so far been repaid.

For the pay periods of April 30 and May 14, there were 139 staff underpaid, 35 not paid and 76 overpaid nationwide.

Joyce says these are well within the 0.5 per cent acceptable error rate as defined by the Novopay technical review.

But New Zealand Educational Institute spokesman Andrew Casidy says money isn't the only issue.

"What schools are telling us is that they're still spending an inordinate amount of time ensuring the pay is accurate," he says.

"That's energy and resources that should be going into students and their achievements.

"You can talk all you like about how much better things are payday to payday, but you've still got massive backlog issues to be fixed and time going in at school level making sure the pay is accurate and correct."

Coughlan isn't confident Novopay will ever be completely right.

He wants to acknowledge the "tremendous amount of workload and pressure" it has put on his school's administration officer.

"In the last 18 months 70 to 80 per cent of his time is focused on Novopay issues," he says.

"Like all schools it has major impacts.

"I want to acknowledge [school financial officers] have carried a really significant extra workload because of this Novopay debacle," Coughlan says. '

- Central Leader

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