Jon Yates' "What's Your Problem?"
December 16, 2012
Kids can be hard on their band instruments. School districts can be even harder on the people who repair the instruments.
Since summer 2010, Sue Williams has fixed musical instruments broken by students in the Gary Community School Corp. — saxophones, flutes, drumheads, whatever.
The process was always the same. She would pick up the instruments and take them to her home in Hobart, Ind., where she'd estimate the cost for repairs, then submit the estimates to the school district.
Once approved, Williams would complete the work.
After the repaired instruments were delivered to the schools, Williams would submit a bill for payment. Invariably, Gary schools would send the check in about a month.
But this year, with the school district financially strained, her payment hit a snag.
Williams said she submitted bills totaling $7,905, for March repairs, but wasn't paid.
When she still hadn't received payment in May, she began calling the district office.
"They said it had to be redone and I should receive payment by the end of the month," Williams said.
May turned into June, June melted into summer, and summer gave way to fall without a check.
At some point she was told her bills were lost. She made copies, but it did little to help.
In November, Williams was referred to a school district lawyer.
"He said he'd contact his former secretary to see what had to be done," she said.
Again, no check arrived.
Tired of waiting, Williams emailed What's Your Problem? in early December.
She said she had called the district's treasurer, school board members and the superintendent.
"It's been months of calling, emailing, faxing and even going in person with no results," she said. "My contention is that if funds were not available, then this work and supplies should never have been approved. I never did anything without prior written approval."
Williams said she is a small business, and $7,905 is a lot of money.
"This represents a fair amount of my income for the year," she said.
The Problem Solver called and emailed Charmella Greer, a spokeswoman for the Gary Community School Corp.
On Wednesday, Greer called to say payments for Williams' work were progressing.
"What I have been told is there have been checks processed for her," Greer said. "They have not been released. I have to find out when they will be released."
Greer said payments have been slowed by the school district's difficult financial situation.
"There is a strain on the budget," she said. "I do know that we are paying vendors but I don't know how they are selecting who they are paying and how quickly they are paying them. The budget's been strained for quite some time."
Wednesday evening, Williams went to the Gary school board meeting and filed a request to speak.
When officials saw her name on the list and the description of what she wanted to talk about, the board president and another official asked to speak to her privately, she said.
"They said they wanted to catch me before I addressed the board," she said. "The school corporation had a bond go through and now they were able to pay their vendors."
On Thursday, Williams went to the school district office and received payment for $5,362 of the $7,905 she is owed, she said.
She was told she would be paid the remaining $2,543 early next year, she said.
"So we're making progress," she said in an email. "At least I have partial payment. I had hoped to be finished with this mess today."
The Problem Solver will provide an update in January.