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Schools to pay $19,000 in overtime

School officials here agreed Tuesday to write checks totaling $18,993 for 25 district employees as overtime wages for work performed over the past two years.

Vicksburg Warren School District Superintendent Donald Oakes said the checks could be ready as early as Friday. The employees were being called Wednesday morning to review the hours to ensure that they agree, he said.

Oakes said that about 100 of the district’s 1,150 employees have been to the administrative offices to find out if they are owed back pay. District accountants are continuing to review pay records since 1998 to determine how many may be owed.

“We’re not going to get them all before Christmas,” Oakes said.

Sixteen school employees had joined others statewide last month in a federal court suit saying they were owed overtime pay. A federal judge ordered earlier this month that the school district cannot discuss payments with those employees outside the court, said Jim Chaney, attorney for the district.

When written, checks will likely go to the plaintiffs’ lawyers who, under normal practices, would deduct fees and forward the balance to clients.

The Jackson law firm that filed suit against the Vicksburg Warren district and about 30 districts across the state is headed by former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy. A list of the district’s employees from 1998 was ordered by a federal judge to be made available to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

“I think it is unfair that we can’t even talk to our own employees,” said board president Zelmarine Murphy.

According to each suit, employees involved were those who worked more than one job within a district and received separate compensation.

For example, one person who worked 20 hours per week in a school cafeteria and 30 hours per week as a bus driver might have gotten a 20-hour check and a 30-hour check, not one check for 50 hours, 10 of which would be at overtime rates.

Chaney said it would probably be at least another six months before the litigation is settled and the employees who filed suit get their compensation.

“We’re caught between the villains and trying to do the right thing,” Murphy said. “If we owe them, we’re going to pay them.”

School employees who may be included are teacher assistants, secretaries, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and custodians. Teachers, administrators and supervisors are paid salaries and are exempt from overtime.