After servers that contained payroll data for about 3,000 Moore Public Schools employees were lost in a pile of rubble in the May 20 tornado, it quickly became apparent that the district would be unable to make payroll for teachers who were due a paycheck that Friday.
“It was very crazy — there was nothing we could to get that information at the time,” said Jeannie Oden, payroll supervisor for Moore Public Schools.
Even the Moore Public School's administration building was rendered unusable by the storm, leaving the district's support staff without a place to work for several days after the storm. District employees are now working out of a computer lab at Moore High School.
“For that and several reasons, it was just not possible for us to make payroll that week,” Norman Dean said, executive director of financial services for Moore Public Schools.
BancFirst, the account holder for the school district, worked with several local banks and state regulators to provide teachers in the district with provisional credit while the district worked to salvage its payroll data.
Like other banks in the area, BancFirst deployed mobile ATMs to the Moore area to serve customers after the storm, but also wanted to help Moore teachers who would not get a paycheck the Friday after the tornado.
The payroll outage affected only teachers in the Moore district, who were to be paid on the last Friday of the school year, per their employment contracts. Other district employees were not scheduled to be paid that Friday, but many also received their paychecks a week early because the missing payroll data. It was impossible for banks to distinguish which employees were scheduled to get paid on the Friday after the tornado, or the following week, Oden said.
John Finn, sophomore principal for Westmoore High School, was one of the district employees who received what amounted to a short-term loan from BancFirst. Although he was not scheduled to get paid until May 31, the bank credited his paycheck to his account early. The bank later drafted the money it had advanced to him when he got paid the following week.
“It was a godsend for the ones who were directly hit that in such tragic times, they were able to get it worked out,” Finn said.
Jay Hannah, BancFirst executive vice president, said he was touched by news coverage of the measures that some Moore teachers employed to protect their students during the tornado, in some cases even using their own bodies to shield children from falling debris.
“We wanted to make sure at BancFirst in our small way, we could alleviate another problem that those teachers might be facing,” Hannah said. “What I saw in Moore was a school system that is very committed to taking care of its students and community — we wanted to do anything we could to be their partner.”
BancFirst worked to identify all of the banks and credit unions that it would normally disburse payroll electronic transfers for Moore Public Schools employees, and asked the financial institutions to extend credit until the district could retrieve its payroll data from the damaged servers.
At BancFirst's prodding, state Banking Commissioner Mick Thompson sent out a bulletin to state-chartered banks asking the institutions to provide provisional credit to district employees that Friday.
“Basically what we told the banks is that the school district won't be able to transfer the money into your accounts, so just give the employees whatever the amount of their last payroll deposit was,” Thompson said.
While a few banks that are not locally controlled did not participate, the vast majority of institutions in the state chose to give Moore Public Schools employees interest-free, short-term loans for the amount of their last paycheck on May 24.
“I think it's a shining example of the banking industry in Oklahoma stepping up to help people when they need it,” Thompson said.