The founder and CEO of a Miami-Dade charter school is accepting responsibility for problems related to some employees’ health insurance.
“It was just a mix-up and it’s our fault. When we found out, and we contacted the insurance company,” said Mary Louise Cole, founder of Bay Point Schools, 22025 SW 87th Ave., a charter school for boys. “We made an unintentional mistake and now we have corrected it and paid all the premiums.”
Raphael Williams, a supervisor of youth counselors at the school, said his disability insurance coverage was cancelled for non-payment of premiums even though the school was deducting money from his paychecks to cover it.
“I don’t think it was a mistake or an error,” Williams said when informed of Cole’s explanation. “It was a tactic and that’s why they still have not explained anything to me.”
Cole said the errors were caused by budget cuts and staff reductions that left only one person to handle accounts payables and payroll instead of the three to four people school once had for that purpose.
“I’m an educator, not an accountant, but I’ve been trying to help out as best I can,” Cole responded. “We offered to pay his retroactive premiums or give him a refund and he wanted the refund.”
Williams’ pay stubs show he had been paying $74 a month for disability coverage with AFLAC insurance. He said he did not know his policy was cancelled since December 2009 until he applied for benefits when his wife was hospitalized and out of work for six weeks earlier this year.
Williams was given a $718 check as refund of the insurance premiums that were deducted from his paychecks but not forwarded to the insurance company. He said the reimbursement came only after South Florida Times reported on the insurance premiums dispute.
Williams said he and several other employees have filed complaints with the state Department of Financial Services, the agency that regulates insurance companies in Florida in an effort to determine what really happened.
The refund development came as more current and former Bay Point employees have begun questioning the accuracy of their paychecks. One of those employees is the school’s campus director, Abraham Ruiz.
“I have tried to get them to explain why my pay was reduced in 2009 from 2008,” Ruiz said. “My W-2 forms show they underpaid me by $8,500 in 2009. They are ignoring my questions about it and so something must not be right.”
Ruiz said he didn’t notice the discrepancy until more than a year later because the school was unable to make payroll on a regular basis.
“When we did get paid, I was just glad to get a check,” he said. “We still are not getting paid regularly and they never tell us anything or explain why. Right now I have a lot of suspicions because other employees are experiencing the same thing.”
Cole said the school was mistakenly paying Ruiz on an hourly basis instead of as a salaried employee in 2008. As a result, he was getting extra pay for overtime and for working on holidays, which he was not entitled to, and that may account for the salary difference.
“That was our mistake and I spent this past weekend working on it but we’re on top of it,” said Cole. “I’m not sure exactly what happened at this point but if we overpaid or underpaid him it will be taken care of.”
A former employee who is paying child support and was laid off this past June is also questioning what he claims to be discrepancies in his paychecks.
“My driver’s license was suspended because the school was not sending the money in,” said Richard Davis, who worked as a youth counselor. “They garnished money from my paycheck but never sent it to child support. Like I told the judge, it was not my fault.”
State officials told South Florida Times they found no record of any complaints about support payments not being forwarded by the school.
“We have checked throughout our child support program, including our customer contact center, and verified that no one has heard of any problems or complaints concerning this issue,” said Renee Watters, who is chief of public information at the Florida Department of Revenue which administers child support enforcement programs.
Watters said the agency has several processes in place to ensure all garnishments are processed and forwarded in a timely manner and that an employer has two business days to remit those funds after they are garnished from an employee’s wages.
Davis said he is calling for an investigation so he can find out exactly what happened. But he acknowledged he has not filed any complaints over the issue.
Cole said Davis did approach them with several outstanding child support invoices totaling more than $2,000, which he asked the school to pay.
“We called the state and they told us those invoices were for child support payments he owed prior to coming to work for us in 2004, so it’s not our fault,” she said. “We only deduct what the state tells us to.”
Bay Point is an alternative charter school for boys which is sanctioned by Miami-Dade school district and regulated by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. The school once enrolled more than 200 students and operated several state residential programs for troubled youth.
Today that number is now down to 20 students and with the steep decline in enrollment has come the loss of much needed funding. Tax returns filed with the Internal Revenue Service show the school has faced dwindling revenue the past several years.
“We’re a charity that helps boys and when we make a dumb mistake, we try to correct it,” Cole said. “We’re not out to hurt anybody.”
Elgin Jones may be reached at EJones@SFLTimes.com.
Pictured: Mary Louise Cole