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Payroll errors outpace SF schools’ ability to pay staff, analysis shows

Stan Voong, an SFUSD math teacher protests missing and incomplete pay on May 3, 2022. “It’s about money, and math teachers know better than anyone about adding.” | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Demand for help with payroll problems is rising among San Francisco Unified School District staff, who have spent over 10 months combating software that continues to affect their livelihoods.

As of Oct. 21, the district has 9,216 outstanding payroll help tickets affecting 3,530 workers, an outside consultant hired to fix the issues shared Tuesday. SFUSD had about 9.200 staffers as of February prior to consolidating several positions.

More than 2,000 of those open tickets have had no activity in more than three months. Since EMPowerSF was put into place at the beginning of the year, staff have consistently reported a litany of missing pay, cut-off benefits and retirement account errors.

The number of tickets is up from 8,539 cases among 3,337 employees previously revealed by the consultant. That was the first time the full scale of the problem was made clear.

“Each month, more tickets are coming than we’re closing,” said Superintendent Matt Wayne at Tuesday’s regular school board meeting. “We’re designing our system to have that help desk system be more functioning.”

Wayne announced that the district would launch a call center open from 9-5 p.m. five days a week starting Wednesday and a clinic focused on retirement accounts. Staff have long sought in-person clinics suitable to school schedules in order to speak to someone directly.  

The board meeting was met with another rally from educators and staff organized by their respective unions, this time with some Halloween-themed costumes and chants outside district headquarters.

“Chronic short-staffing after two years of the pandemic is making the job of classified staff harder than ever,” said Rafael Picazo, Service Employees International Union 1021 SFUSD chapter president, in a statement. “Yet instead of doing everything in their power to correct what amounts to wage theft to make sure that hardworking employees stay and that they can fill vacancies, including in the payroll department, they seem to prefer throwing millions more at sketchy consultants.”

The consultant, Alvarez & Marsal, hired for $2.8 million in September recommended a corrective action plan on Tuesday. The strategy would reorganize staff into teams focused on aspects such as paycheck correction, root cause analysis, analytics and case management. It also doesn’t recommend replacing EMPower with another system, as people like Picazo have urged. 

“As much as we want to resolve [problems] immediately, I understand going back to the previous system is going to raise issues,” Wayne added.