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Teachers end occupation of SF school district headquarters after 3 nights

After three nights spent on the floor of the San Francisco Unified School District’s headquarters, teachers are going home Thursday afternoon, having reached an agreement with the administration.

Members of the United Educators of San Francisco spent Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights at district headquarters in protest of missed and incomplete paychecks, which administrators blamed on glitches in a new payroll system. As of Thursday, SFUSD responded to 1,003 reports of underpayment and had 25 cases left to resolve by Friday.

SFUSD agreed to pay 15 percent interest on late pay past three business days, reimburse teachers for late fees and penalties as a result of reduced pay retroactive to Feb. 1, and to restore insurance coverage retroactively, according to district and union officials. The district also assured UESF members that a COVID sick leave code is now in the system and can be applied retroactively. 

UESF President Cassondra Curiel said public support for the demonstration hastened an agreement after two months of teacher complaints over the new payroll system.

“We won this because of you all,” Curiel said at a press conference Thursday. “This is going to be an ongoing fight. We know that the issues can’t all be resolved but they know what we’re willing to do to get them.”

While some have had difficulties with pay for months, the issue erupted after most staff were supposed to receive their paychecks for the month of February—the first full paycheck under a new system.

Staff have reported underpayments, incorrect amounts or missing paychecks altogether as well as insurance cut-offs and wrong tax withholdings. For many, this has led to stress over unpaid bills, borrowing money for rent, being sent to food pantries, and even applying for rental assistance.  

Roughly 300 educators are on board with a class-action lawsuit over the delayed payments, seeking interest. It’s unclear if the suit is moving forward.

Some educators question if they are counted as “resolved” despite lingering questions. Chris Clauss, a special education teacher at George Washington High School and union building representative, was told the missing $732 from her paycheck may be from excess taxes withheld that could be corrected after filing next year and therefore, she didn’t lose money. 

Clauss, who slept overnight Monday and Tuesday, is unable to verify the fluctuation in her paycheck since her direct deposit was removed from her account and she was issued a paper check with no breakdown. As of Tuesday night, she has not received a response since March 6. Her husband also works for SFUSD and recently received a layoff notice.

“I don’t feel like I’ve been resolved,” Clauss said. “I’m not waiting a year for $700 I need. I just kind of need to be paid correctly.”

It is anticipated that payroll issues will continue when the next cycle hits at the end of March, which is why UESF sought agreement to resolve late pay within a reasonable time frame.

Questions remain over how the rollout was disastrous despite spending more than $4 million on transition support by Infosys, the company behind the new payroll system EMPowerSF. The total contract is for $13.7 million.

The school board, joined by three new members, will vote on the agreement at its regular meeting on Tuesday at 5 p.m. UESF will hold a celebration rally in the parking lot of 555 Franklin St. on Friday at 5 p.m.