Fed up with the payroll problems they’ve been experiencing for more than 10 months now, San Francisco Unified School District staff protested at several campuses and held a large rally at its headquarters on Wednesday.
Several educators called in sick in protest of the paycheck errors, benefit cutoffs and other similar issues that have affected roughly a third of SFUSD employees since the district switched to EMPowerSF in January. About 50 of the staffers participating in the sickout on Wednesday work at George Washington High School, said educator Chris Clauss.
Hundreds of staff later gathered outside 555 Franklin St., blocking the street for an extended period of time.
There, the group held a moment of silence to honor Eddy Alarcon, a longtime paraeducator who died of cancer in September. Throughout his diagnosis, his insurance was cut off twice, adding immense stress “during his worst moments,” his sister Jackie Alarcon previously told The Standard.
Superintendent Matt Wayne, who declined to comment, looked on as people spoke to the problems and stress EMPower has brought to their lives.
Kelley Tran, a special education teacher at George Washington High School, said her October check showed a negative $28,891 balance and that she received two blank checks over the summer.
Tran took a personal day this week to go to the payroll office and didn't leave until officials produced a check. She doesn't know if she'll return next year, or even next semester.
"Just seeing that blank check was so devastating," Tran said of the second one, back to back. "I've definitely been in my lows in depression. I had to borrow thousands from family. I fill up my gas little by little."
Throughout the week, staff at various schools have also protested before the start of the school day, standing outside with posters and flyers for parents to see that say that they will only work contracted work hours. Workers at Dolores Huerta Elementary School have done so each morning this week and plan to continue through Friday. Employees at Bret Harte, El Dorado, McKinley and Longfellow elementary schools are also part of these efforts.
Cynthia Lasden, an SF educator of 27 years, estimates that she lost 22 sick days after the new system applied her current part-time status to the sick time off she accrued. She filed a grievance with the district in the spring that has yet to be acted on.
“It’s like their right hand’s not talking to their left,” Lasden said. “We have to be our own accountants at the end of every month. As far as we can see, not a lot has changed. People are fed up.”
SFUSD hired consultant Alvarez & Marsal for $2.8 million in September to institute systemic changes and clear the backlog. As of Oct. 21, SFUSD has more than 9,000 outstanding payroll tickets affecting 3,530 employees, it calculated. The district had about 9,200 workers in February.
More than 2,000 of those open tickets haven’t had any activity in more than three months, according to the consultant.
“Each month, more tickets are coming than we’re closing,” said Superintendent Matt Wayne at last Tuesday’s regular school board meeting. “We’re designing our system to have that help desk system be more functioning.”
SFUSD launched a call center last week that’s open from 9-5 p.m. five days a week, and the school district has maintained that everyone will be paid what they’re owed.
But many educators still aren't sure how to make sense of their paychecks and what may be wrong.
"I haven't dealt with it because I haven't had the time," said Evelyn Sanchez, who works at San Francisco Community School. "We're going on 11 months. The district needs to see how frustrated we are."
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