FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – As Rebekah Pridmore was settling into her routine at the start of the last school year, she received a letter from Broward County Public Schools that stunned her.
The letter said that Pridmore had been overpaid since the day she was hired.
That's a decade of overpayments, totaling nearly $33,000. The letter also came with a requirement of repayment for $7,300.
Pridmore's salary was immediately readjusted by $3,650. In addition, the district started automatically deducting 200 from each paycheck -- the most her contract allows.
In total, the adjustments made a $600 monthly difference in Pridmore's income, and she said that was enough to force her out of her home.
"You can't really put a price tag on the impact it has, not just on me, but certainly on my son," she said.
Pridmore said the mix-up in her paycheck stems from when she was being recruited away from the private sector 10 years ago. At the time, she told her recruiter her compensation needs.
"When you go in for a job interview, I think everyone has the same thing in mind, and that is the bottom line," she said. "What I will and will not accept salary wise."
But the Broward County school district said that was the mistake -- there was no salary negotiation for new teachers.
Pridmore's early paychecks showed a salary close to what she asked for because she was being given a $3,600 annual master's degree stipend -- for a master's degree she didn't have. The district said it was a data entry mistake, made by the payroll department in 2006.
"It's the district's error," Susan Rockelman, who oversees human resources for Broward County Public Schools, said. "No question about it."
Rockelman said Pridmore should have realized that she was being overpaid. Rockelman acknowledges that the district did make some mistakes in properly notifying Pridmore before automatic deductions began, but she said the teacher did not reply fast enough to emails and that the overpayment deductions have temporarily stopped.
"Trust me, I would love to forgive the payment, but we can't do that," Rockelman said. "This isn’t our money, so it's not our authority to say, 'OK, you know, we're going to go ahead and waive this overpayment.' Again, this is taxpayer's money. It's not that we own the money. I think it's definitely in our due diligence to go back, and again, we're only going back two years. We're not going back the full 10 years."
The audit that caught this mistake also found five other instances of long term overpayment. Four of those where teachers who were overpaid more than $42,000. Those teachers have all been repaying.
"It is tough, but we are willing to work with the individual and to come up to some kind of agreement that is not a complete hardship for her," Rockelman said.
Pridmore said that isn't workable.
"That doesn't work for teachers," she said. "We don't make this exorbitant salary, as everyone knows, that we can just eat these kinds of mistakes."
Broward County Public Schools said it has made adjustments to its pay stubs over the years to make it easier for teachers to spot any variances in pay and that it is the employee's responsibility to catch these errors.