Ministry Overpaid Teacher by Mistake, Wants Its Money Back

Orly Marton had been paid as if she had an academic degree, says Education Ministry stopped her payments without telling her, leaving her without a way to make ends meet.

The Education Ministry stopped paying a teacher's wages a few months ago after finding that she had mistakenly been paid more than she deserved for the past four years.

The teacher, Orly Marton, had been paid as if she had an academic degree. She says the ministry stopped her payments without telling her, leaving her without a way to make ends meet. And it says it wants its NIS 14,000 back.

Marton, 32, until recently a science teacher at a Herzliya elementary school, began working as a teacher in the state education system in September 2008. A letter her lawyer sent the Education Ministry says her monthly salary was about NIS 4,500.

At the beginning of June, when she wanted to pay her rent, she found the ministry had not deposited May's wages in her bank account. She first sought explanations at her school, then at the Education Ministry's Tel Aviv district. She insists no one from the ministry told her that her salary would not be paid.

After several queries, it turned out that in the beginning, the ministry had mistakenly classified Marton as a new teacher with an academic degree, even though she had still been a trainee with no degree at the time.

The ministry discovered its error only a few months ago, after Marton reported that she had completed her academic studies.

"I tried to find out how much money I had to return but couldn't get a clear answer from the ministry. After several attempts they told me I owed about NIS 20,000 but refused to give any details," says Marton.

"They certainly didn't suggest an installment plan to return the funds. When I said I couldn't live without a paycheck, they gave me NIS 1,500 as an advance on June's wages."

In July the ministry paid Marton around NIS 3,500 in lieu of a salary. After two months of receiving partial pay, she was forced to leave her rented apartment and move in with friends. She does not know how to return the money she received by mistake, especially since she already decided several months ago to leave the teaching profession.

Marton says that even if she must return the money, "a person needs something to live on. In the past few weeks I've realized that this doesn't interest the ministry, apparently."

Education Ministry spokeswoman Hagit Cohen said Marton's statement of not being notified of her debt was "groundless."

"The [ministry's] Tel Aviv district accountant met the teacher and updated her about the debt," Cohen said. "During the probe into the case she was also briefed by email."

She said a letter sent July 24, which Marton received a few days ago, set her debt at about NIS 14,000. The demand to return the money is stipulated by the New Horizon agreement signed with the teachers federation a few years ago, she said.

"Marton was asked a number of times to pay the debt but decided not to do so," Cohen said.

According to Marton, "It's nice of the Education Ministry to let me know, after nearly two months of queries, that my debt is lower than they first estimated."