Charleston County school leaders say a poorly written letter likely confused some of its former day custodians about how much money the district owed them, so officials have decided to pay 57 of those outsourced employees a total of about $53,000.

Individual checks will range from $840 to $1,150 depending on how long they'd been with the district, and those should be going out by the end of the month, said Mike Bobby, the district's chief financial and operations officer.

"We think this is a way to show we are being as fair as possible," he said.

For Lori Washington, a day custodian at Drayton Hall Elementary, news of the unexpected payment is welcome, particularly at this time of year.

"That'd be great," she said. "I could use that."

The county school board agreed earlier this year to outsource its school-based custodians to private companies to save about $700,000 annually. It was one of the most controversial budget decisions the board made this year, prompting pushback from some who said it hurt those who already were among the lowest-paid.

The district sent its custodians a letter at the end of July in an attempt to describe the final paychecks they would receive. Many employees interpreted the letter to mean they would receive more money than they actually did from the district, Bobby said.

Although the district reviewed all its outsourced employees' final pay and determined everyone had been paid what they were owed, it decided to go ahead and pay the difference because of its inadequate communication, he said.

"It wasn't an easy thing for anyone, and we're not trying to nickel and dime people who need this money to live on," he said. "It's never been that, so we've taken a position that even though we know what we intended to communicate, it still could be interpreted another way."

The district's payments to custodians can be difficult to understand because it prorated their pay for the 11 months they worked to 12 months.

The school board approved the payout unanimously, and board Chairman Chris Fraser said the lack of clarity in the district's communication was why.

"The majority readily agreed we needed to go above and beyond to do the right thing so there would be no confusion on how it was handled," he said.

Washington, the custodian at Drayton Hall Elementary, said she was confused about her pay during the transition to her new employer, but she made do with what she had and took one day at a time.

Although she'd prefer to still work for the school district because it offered better health insurance and benefits, she said she's grateful to have a job to support the grandchild who lives with her.

"This (extra paycheck) will be a whole lot of help," she said.

Reach Diette Courrégé at 937-5546.