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Politics & Policy

SFUSD payroll crisis: San Francisco may dump buggy system

Staff members protest the ongoing payroll troubles at Dolores Huerta Elementary School on Oct. 31, 2022. | Source: Courtesy Cynthia Lasden

Nearly two years after launching a payroll system that continues to affect thousands of its employees, the San Francisco Unified School District is considering starting over.

Superintendent Matt Wayne announced at a school board meeting on Tuesday that the district is reevaluating the system known as EMPowerSF and looking for another that works for a public education institution. The EMPowerSF system launched in January 2022, upending paychecks, benefits, retirement and more for employees.

After spending over $15 million on consultants to remedy the issue, the district still has over 3,000 help tickets from workers to resolve as of September. Though many of the basic issues are taken care of, the cases that remain are complex and require extra time and expertise. 

“We’re at the point where we’re asking ourselves: 'Is this the right system for us?'” Wayne said on Tuesday. “We have to have one that we can have confidence in. It has to work for us and include all the modules we need.”

The system is built off of a computer program by SAP America, a major business software company and was implemented by Infosys. Many aspects of the contracts were written to the district’s disadvantage, according to an analysis by The Standard

San Francisco public schools wouldn’t be the only California government agency to pull the plug on payroll systems with underlying SAP software. 

In 2010, Marin County stopped a $30 million SAP project after determining it would cost less in the long run to replace it because of the staff time needed to maintain the SAP system. In 2013, the State Controller’s Office ended its $90 million contract with SAP, leading to a $59 million settlement.

Wayne added that the district needs a payroll system tailored to an educational institution. 

Teacher union leaders staged a takeover of the district offices in March 2022 over widespread issues but later gave new district management time to fix the mess. As this year went on, however, it became clear to them that EMPowerSF would be an expensive pain in the long run and urged the district to dump it.

On Tuesday, they said they finally felt heard.  

“It shows he is serious about stabilizing this district,” Frank Lara, vice president of the United Educators of San Francisco, said of Wayne’s comments on Tuesday. “Our members have been rightfully clamoring that EMPower has to go, and today, they are validated.”