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Teachers’ union sends SF Unified cease-and-desist to stop correcting overpayments

Washington High School teacher Carolyn Karlovic holds a protest sign during a SFUSD Board of Education meeting on Aug. 9, 2022. | Noah Berger for The Standard | Source: Noah Berger for The Standard

By now, San Franciscans have heard time and time again about thousands of public school teachers who have missed pay due to a faulty payroll system all year

But in issuing new checks to remedy the situation, it appears that the San Francisco School District has overpaid some workers—and it’s racing to balance the books before the end of the school year in time to prevent higher tax bills. 

To do that, its teachers’ union said, SFUSD has unilaterally garnished wages from paychecks and violated its labor contract. Some teachers owe less than $1,000, but one worker owes $20,000, according to United Educators of San Francisco Vice President Frank Lara. 

That’s meant some teachers having their entire monthly paycheck garnished—and without notification. On Monday, UESF sent a cease-and-desist order to the district.

Cassondra Curiel looks out at City Hall from the SFUSD conference room on March 14, 2022. | Camille Cohen | Source: Camille Cohen/The Standard

“Aside from the fact that this is a blatant disregard and violation of the [contract bargaining agreement], under the eyes of the law this could be considered wage theft,” read the UESF letter obtained by The Standard. “This has caused severe financial hardship to UESF members, their families and those who rely on them and has severed the tie and trust between employee and employer.”

The district has an estimated 150 outstanding cases of overpayment, Lara added. SFUSD is determining the exact number of workers affected. 

“We're taking steps to address the issue as well as looking into system fixes that will resolve the automatic deductions from paychecks to address overpayments,” said district spokesperson Laura Dudnick. “We will be communicating directly with impacted staff as soon as we have information on next steps.”

Under the labor contract between UESF and SFUSD, tenure-track teachers return excess pay on a payment plan by June 30 if notified by Nov. 15 during that school year. If they are notified by April 15, the teachers have until Dec. 31 to space out the payments. 

But there is just one pay schedule until the end of the year before the tax year closes out. About a dozen teachers have been paid in excess that would move their families into a higher tax bracket, Lara said.  

“What payment plan can you have if you have one paycheck?” said Lara. “They’re going to be in a higher tax bracket for money that isn’t there. It’s much harder to argue with the federal government.”

If SFUSD does not agree to stop the practice by Tuesday, UESF threatened to file an unfair labor practice charge with the state. 

Instructional aide Alex Schmaus makes a protest sign before attending a SFUSD Board of Education meeting on Aug. 9, 2022. | Noah Berger for The Standard

Since January, thousands of SFUSD workers have dealt with missing pay, retirement errors, cut-off benefits and other errors stemming from new payroll software. Earlier this month, the union filed a separate unfair labor practice charge with more than 250 formal grievances to get state officials to intervene. 

That same day, SFUSD Superintendent Matt Wayne declared a state of emergency over the ongoing payroll crisis after previously hiring a consultant to recommend a corrective action plan. With that came a command center of 60 staffers to clear the backlog.

More than 4,600 employees have filed over 10,000 help tickets as of Nov. 17, according to a dashboard launched as part of the emergency declaration. Since then, the number of new help tickets filed each week dropped from 786 to 420. 

“It is long overdue for us to escalate this issue and take aggressive action,” Superintendent Wayne said in a statement. “Declaring a state of payroll emergency means we will be doing things differently so that we can do right by our educators and staff. You have my assurance, and the assurance of SFUSD, that these problems will be rectified.”

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