CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A carpenter in Kanawha County schools made more than $48,000 in overtime pay within the past year. A painter made $46,000. That's more than an average teacher in West Virginia's largest school system earns in base salary in an entire year.As the Kanawha County school system investigates allegations of widespread theft and illegal purchasing in the district's maintenance department, dozens of the maintenance workers are racking up millions of dollars in overtime pay.This year, Kanawha County schools paid more than $1 million in overtime pay to 86 maintenance workers in the department, according to payroll records. Some workers only were paid $300 or $500 in extra pay, but the majority racked up tens of thousands of dollars in overtime, in many cases doubling their regular paychecks.
"This is absolutely not acceptable," said school board President Pete Thaw. "We're not going to let something this egregious stand. We're going to look into it immediately."William Koenig, a carpenter, topped the list in department overtime pay this year, earning $48,577. That's more than his salary of $39,515, meaning he'll round out the year making more than $88,000. In the past decade, Koenig earned almost $240,800, according to records.As a point of comparison, the average base pay for a teacher in Kanawha County was $45,700 last year.David Simms, a painter, also took advantage of overtime opportunities this year. He made almost $46,000 in overtime, supplementing his regular salary of $41,942.And they're not the only ones cashing in big on overtime.This year, 39 workers in the Kanawha County maintenance department have accumulated more than $10,000 in overtime pay. Twenty-one of those workers have made more than $20,000 in overtime.That's all in addition to their regular salaries, which average about $37,600 this year.The workers in the maintenance department are earning record amounts of overtime pay as the school system is in the midst of a sweeping investigation looking into allegations of rampant theft and misappropriation of funds within the department."There's always something going on in this maintenance operation," Thaw said. "Whether it be larceny at Crede or abusing overtime, we're going to fight it."In March, school officials discovered that maintenance department employees had used more than $800 in taxpayer money to buy themselves four hunting jackets. Those illegal purchases triggered an internal investigation into the thousands of purchases made by the 100-member maintenance department and spurred a rule change to more closely monitor workers' purchases.Maintenance supervisors Ernest Bryant and Bill Hughart resigned in the wake of the district's investigation, but they too cashed in on overtime pay in the department during their tenure.
Bryant received almost $92,000 in overtime pay in the last decade, according to payroll records. He made $9,637 in overtime pay last year. Hughart made almost $10,000 in overtime pay between 2006 and 2011. He made more than $6,700 in overtime last year.Kanawha County Maintenance Director Terry Hollandsworth said that maintenance employees are earning overtime on HVAC repairs and lots of other different projects. He said it would be costlier to hire private contractors than to pay employees overtime."They're working under time constraints and have to finish projects in a certain amount of days," he said. Hollandsworth added that the maintenance department receives between 21,000 and 22,000 work orders from schools and other county facilities a year. The maintenance department has a budget of $32.8 million this year. The budget covers worker salaries, benefits, and construction purchases for all the schools in the county.
In the last decade, West Virginia's largest school system has paid welders, painters, electricians, carpenters and cabinetmakers more than $8 million in overtime.Since Kanawha County schools launched its investigation, school system treasurer Harry Reustle said the district has clamped down on granting overtime pay to the maintenance department.He was unaware, however, that almost 40 repair workers in the department are making more than $10,000 in overtime this year and that the overtime costs in the department topped the $1 million mark for the first time this year."That seems like a whole lot of overtime," said Reustle. "But we've virtually stopped all overtime in the last few months [after the school system launched the investigation]. We've changed it so that now it almost has to be an emergency to get that overtime pay in the maintenance department." Reach Amy Julia Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4814.