August 26, 2019

Message from Superintendent Tom Moore

Dear Great Falls Public Schools Employees,

First, let me say thank you for your service to the children and the staff of this school district. Secondly, if you have received a letter from the IRS regarding possible inaccurate withholdings during a previous tax year, I would like to apologize to you for any inconvenience or angst that you may have experienced as a result of the “IRS Letter”.  Recently, my wife and I also received one of those letters, so I understand the feeling of frustration and confusion.

If you have received a letter from the IRS and have not already done so, please come in and see Katie Allen in the GFPS Payroll Department. She will provide you with a letter from the School District to be sent to the IRS. The letter indicates the School District did not issue the 1099-R forms.

In working with a Local Tax Advocate who has the ability to deal directly with the IRS, it has been determined that the letters being sent out to our current and former employees was the result of an incorrect file being sent to the IRS from the District.  This eliminates the possibility of an outside hack or breach of our information.   The District is completing a thorough investigation as to how this happened so we can put safeguards in place to prevent it from happening again.  The Tax Advocate will also work with any employees who face unresolved issues related to the 1099-R submission.  If you have individual issues to address, you may contact the Local Tax Advocate at the following:

Karen L. Alvear
Local Taxpayer Advocate – Montana
Phone:  406-444-8612
Email: Karen.L.Alvear@irs.gov

*The IRS Advocate is not allowed to respond by e-mail, but will contact individuals by phone.  In an e-mail message, please leave your phone number and the best time to call.

History and Background:  In mid-April, the District Business Office became aware of letters that past and current employees had been receiving from the IRS.  The correspondence indicated that the employee who received the letter needed to pay additional taxes on a Retirement Distribution.  According to the information received, the District had paid the employees a Retirement Distribution.  Obviously, this was in error as GFPS cannot and did not pay out retirement benefits.  Only the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) or the Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) can create and issue the 1099-R Form.  We immediately contacted the IRS to make them aware of this situation.  The IRS indicated that they do not respond verbally to incidents of this nature, and the issue must be addressed in writing with a response to be expected within 30-45 days.  At that time, the IRS gave the District language for a letter to provide to our staff in response to this issue.  Also, at this juncture, we had no idea as to how the letters were being triggered.

By the end of May, the District was aware of a total of 23 letters that had been received.  With the expectation that the IRS would respond with a correction to the situation, the District waited for a response.  Toward the end of June, the number of letters being brought to our attention increased to 45.  The District continued to analyze the staff members who received the letters to determine if there was a pattern.  After receiving many more letters in July and no contact from the IRS, the District contacted the State Attorney General Tim Fox, Senator Jon Tester, Senator Steve Daines, and Congressman Greg Gianforte for assistance.  Through this correspondence, the District was able to make contact with an IRS Tax Advocate for Montana. With the Tax Advocate involved, the District was able to get the count of people who received the letter and from there was able to identify how this might have occurred. We contacted the advocate who confirmed that the people who received the letter were employees who received a W-2 in 2012.

In further discussions with the Tax Advocate during the week of August 12, 2019, the IRS has been able to stop the automatic generation of letters to the remaining staff who have not yet received them.  There may still be some in the pipeline that will be sent out.  The advocate also indicated that by receiving one of the letters, it will not, by itself, flag the person for additional scrutiny in future tax years.  Also, if one of our employees made payments to the IRS, they can contact the District so the Tax Advocate can work with them to get this money recovered.

Here is what we know: The District Data System Has Not Been “Hacked”.   In 2018, the District Data Office inadvertently submitted to the IRS a file of employees who had received a W-2 in the 2012 tax year. The IRS incorrectly processed this as a 1099-R file submission which then generated a list of GFPS employees with erroneous retirement earnings information. That triggered the generation of a letter to those employees on the list, referencing this erroneous information.  Like me, if you received this letter, you were probably very confused.

You may ask why the District did not send out some type of notice to all employees warning them that they may be receiving this IRS letter and what to do if they received one. We did not feel that it was prudent to send a letter to employees that had vague or inaccurate information about this situation. The District posted information on the GFPS website in early July informing employees to contact the Business Office if they had received a letter from the IRS.   We found out this past week exactly who was on the list to receive the IRS letter. There were over 2000 employees listed. It appears that around 600 current or previous employees may have received the letter. Now that we know exactly what happened, we are notifying all of our employees, past and present, what has transpired.

I appreciate the patience and hard work of our Human Resources and Business Office staff who have helped our employees and retirees through the process of responding to the IRS letter. We would like to thank the Teachers’ Union for working with the District to inform employees earlier this summer, as well.  In addition, to all of you who have worked through this with our Business Office, thank you for your time and patience.

Again, if you have received a letter and have not yet responded, please come in and see Katie Allen, Lead Payroll Technician, or call her at 268- 6064 for information on the correct response.

Sincerely,

Supt Tom Moore signature

 

 

Tom Moore
Superintendent of Schools
Great Falls Public Schools


Annual Cybersecurity Training

Cybersecurity has become a hot topic for school districts across the nation recently. Last year there were 122 publicly-disclosed cybersecurity incidents affecting 119 K-12 education agencies across 38 states (including Montana). This equates to an an incident reported every three days. There are probably hundreds more that are not reported. Incidents are defined as both cyber attacks and data breaches.

In an effort to educate our staff on the risks of cyber crime, GFPS is instituting an annual cybersecurity training program. On August 26th, all employees who have a GFPS email address will receive an email notification similar to the one following this paragraph. Rest assured this is a legitimate email and staff can click on the link in the email without worry. The link will direct you to a website where you will be able to watch a 15 minute video on your role in internet security, primarily focusing on email phishing attempts. While there may be some unique terms you have not heard of before, this video is designed for non-technical employees and presented in layman’s terms. There will be a short quiz at the end of the video. It is more important that you learn about the topic versus getting every answer correct. Take your time.

               
We ask that all employees complete this training by end of day October 11th. You will receive reminders throughout the next 7 weeks to complete the training if you have not done so already. We will also work with building administrators and supervisors to reinforce the importance of completing this training on time.

After the training is complete, we will be sending out test phishing emails throughout the year to check what you have learned and retained. If you fail any of these tests, please be aware you will be required to complete a more in-depth video training. Also, understand that GFPS has a number of policies already in place on appropriate use of internet and email resources and violations of those policies could result in disciplinary action.

You can reference the following policies if you would like to learn more:

5450 Employee Electronic Mail and OnLine Services Usage

5450F Staff Computer Acceptable Use and Internet Safety Agreement

5460 Electronic Resources and Social Networking

We hope that all employees take this seriously and understand that everyone has a part in keeping both student and employee protected information secure and private. If you have any concerns, questions or issues with this cybersecurity training, please direct those to:

Tom Hering
Director of Information Technology
Phone: 268-6068
Email: tom_hering@gfps.k12.mt.us


Great Falls High School Dahl Gallery Presents Lyle Omeasoo

On Friday, August 23rd, Blackfeet/Cree artist Lyle Omeasoo will be at the Dahl Gallery to hang his exhibit.  He will return to his hometown, Browning, that evening and will be back in Great Falls Friday, September 6th, for his opening reception.  The reception will feature fry bread, drummers, fancy dancers, and Lyle.  All members of the Blue Spirit of Pitakki drum group are either GFPS students or graduates.  According to statistics, GFPS has the largest population of Native American students in the state behind Browning Public Schools.  It will be a great event.  The show and reception was funded through an Innovation Grant through the GFPS Foundation.

The GFH Art Department is proud to bring Lyle to our community and provide an opportunity for our local performers to be honored.  Great thanks to the GFPS Foundation for making this possible!  More information can be found here.

Lyle Omeasoo Exhibit Poster