Superintendent Dr.Matt Wayne (left) listens in on the Nov. 2 rally over the EMPowerSF system
Superintendent Dr.Matt Wayne (left) listens in on the Nov. 2 rally over the EMPowerSF system. Photo by David Mamaril Horowitz.

UPDATED AT 7:05 p.m.:

Traffic was halted on Franklin Street when well over 200 educators across some 20 school sites filled the street in front of the school district headquarters at 3 p.m. to protest the EMPowerSF pay crisis. Chants quickly overpowered the music.

“What do we want?” shouted Evelyn Sanchez, a teacher at San Francisco Community School and a protest organizer.

“Paychecks!” responded the crowd.

“When do we want them?”


Payroll protest
Educators fill the street in front of the school district headquarters to protest the ongoing payroll debacle. Photo by David Mamaril Horowitz.

More than 3,000 educators have been affected across the San Francisco Unified School District by the EMPowerSF payroll debacle, according to Alvarez & Marsal, the firm recently hired to assess and fix the EmPowerSF payroll system. Wednesday’s rally was organized by rank-and-file educators, and not sanctioned by the union United Educators of San Francisco or its leadership.

While some teachers at the rally told Mission Local that they weren’t there for it, one of the key messages behind the protest was a demand for a cancellation of the EMPowerSF contract, with organizers and rally-goers frequently chanting in unison for the cancellation. What educators were united in, clearly, was a desire to be paid properly.

At the corner of 555 Franklin St., teachers took turns at the mic to share their perspectives.

Chris Clauss, a special-education teacher and union-building representative at Washington High, was one of the first speakers to kick off the rally, speaking of her coworkers who had lost income due to the crisis.

Clauss described how her close friend received a negative- or zero-dollar paycheck for the third time in four months.

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In support of the teacher, the crowd booed.

That teacher, who was interviewed by Mission Local in September, was at the rally herself.

When Dana — we called her Dana — spoke with Mission Local in September, she detailed how having $6,000 deducted from their summer paycheck impacted her life. That error took about a month to fix at the end of August, but when it was, $5,000 was deducted in taxes, instead of the usual several hundred dollars.

At the time, the relatively new teacher asked to remain anonymous out of fear of losing her job. 

Then, the October paycheck came in last Friday.

An educator's incorrect paycheck
An educator’s incorrect paycheck. Photo courtesy of Chris Clauss.

It had a $28,891.33 deduction, and stated that she owed $20,769.09. So, she got nothing.

After reaching out to Chief Technology Officer Melissa Dodd, she was able to get a check on Tuesday. But at this point, Kelley Tran is willing to go on the record.

Tran said she loves her job and colleagues, and has received overwhelming support from the latter. But the last time she wasn’t paid, Tran told herself she would leave if it happened again; at this point, she’s looking at other schools and school districts.

Kelley Tran
Kelley Tran teaches at Washington High School. Photo courtesy of Kelley Tran.

“I just felt mad and angry that this was happening again, and because I was still recovering from the last time,” Tran told Mission Local. “I still hadn’t paid off everything that I borrowed to make up for last time, and then just seeing, it was very demoralizing, demeaning, and just very heart-breaking to see.”

In the meantime, the incorrect $5,000 deduction is taking its toll and forces her to cut back where she can. She limits her spending on food and gas. She no longer attends therapy. She owes money to her family, who gave her a loan to make ends meet when the school district botched her summer pay. And she’s considering dropping out of her Doctor of Education program at University of San Francisco due to her payroll errors.

Rori Abernathy, a teacher at James Denman Middle School and one of the organizers, told Mission Local how, month after month, she and other teachers feel the fear of not getting paid correctly.

“We are literally on Facebook, right before midnight, like, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to get paid this month? How am I going to pay my bills?’ Because you never know,” Abernathy said. “We have our own families. We have our own children. We have our own elderly people and families going on and we have to be able to pay our bills. Everybody out there should ask themselves, ‘Would you just go to work every day for free?'”

Rafael Picazo, the president of the SEIU 1021, spoke in solidarity as a participant rather than the head of his union. The crowd repeated each statement.

“We’re all tired,” he said. “We all need to be paid. We all need medical insurance. We all need to live.”

At one point in the protest, the attendees held a silence to pay respect for Eddy Alarcon, a paraeducator at James Lick Middle School who died in the summer. His sister Jackie has said that “struggling to reinstate insurance with a cancer diagnosis, and unable to properly tend to his sickness, took a toll on Alarcon and his loved ones.”

Portraits of Alarcon were posted on the large window next to the entrance of the district headquarters with flowers and candles in front. Portraits were also placed on the railings nearby.

Superintendent Dr. Matt Wayne was in attendance. He declined to comment on the protest, saying he was there to listen.

The rally subsided around 4:15 p.m., and traffic began to flow soon after.

At 4:33 p.m., a group of teachers spotted Melissa Dodd, the Chief Technology Officer, inside the building.

They shouted through the glass window: “Melissa Dodd! Pay us! Pay us!”

UPDATE AT 1:41 p.m.: Around 40 teachers called out at Balboa High, one staffer told Mission Local.

UPDATE AT 1:12 p.m.: At Sanchez Elementary, there are around two teachers, compared to the usual 12 or 14, said Mirna Cheek, a paraeducator at the school. 

Cheek said she had planned to walk out, but came in when she was told she wouldn’t be able to use her sick hours. 

The EMPowerSF system has left her without health insurance since the beginning of February — and a surgery at the end of that month billed her for about $32,000. Money from her paycheck goes toward paying it off every other week, she said.



SF educators hold unsanctioned walkout ahead of payroll debacle protest

More than 100 educators across the school district called out of work Wednesday morning to protest the ongoing payroll crisis that has left more than 3,000 employees unpaid, mispaid or underpaid, according to teachers. 

It comes in advance of a 2:30 p.m. protest rally and vigil at the San Francisco Unified School District’s 555 Franklin St. offices. Educators from at least 16 sites are planning to attend, said Greg McGarry, an English teacher and a member of the Union Building Committee at Mission High, who worked on organizing the rally and vigil.

“I don’t want anyone to put their family and jobs at risk, but I think some of us are willing to,” McGarry said. 

It’s unclear how many educators are taking a day off work, but McGarry and other educators estimated that some 100 teachers had called in sick or taken personal time off at Mission High, Balboa High and Washington High. The action by rank-and-file educators is unsanctioned by the United Educators of San Francisco union or its leadership.

McGarry said he confirmed that at least 20 teachers from Mission High called out of work. This morning at Mission High school, the principal, Darrell Daniels, appeared unconcerned and collected. 

“We’re fine and covered, we have all classes covered,” Daniels said.

Jessica Hobbs Alvarez, a literacy specialist teacher at Hillcrest Elementary participating in a sick-out protest, estimated that 30 educators — teachers, paraeducators, librarians and social workers — were taking personal time off or a sick day at Hillcrest Elementary.

The actions taken by educators appear to vary site by site, educators told Mission Local. Other educators, including those at at least eight to 10 elementary schools, are taking part in “work-to-rule,” meaning they aren’t working beyond their contracted hours, Cynthia Lasden, an elected union leader at McKinley Elementary, told Mission Local on Wednesday morning.

UPDATE AT 1:41 p.m.:

Most classroom educators at McKinley Elementary, if not all of them, are teaching their classes but skipping meetings to leave school during contracted work hours to attend the 2:30 p.m. protest, Lasden said.

Similar actions are taking place at Thurgood Marshall Academic High School, where educators are teaching through the school day, but, with full support from the site’s administration, plan to skip the usual department meeting to attend the 2:30 p.m. protest, said Joanna Siegfried, a chemistry teacher at Thurgood Marshall.

Lasden added that these actions, which are different from keeping to contracted hours with a “work-to-rule” schedule, are happening at multiple school sites.


Educators protest the ongoing EMPowerSF payroll debacle in front of Burton Academy High School on Nov. 2, 2020. Photo courtesy of Lauren Stupek.

Preparations for today also varied by site.

At Washington High, for example, teachers notified site administration and did three days of talking about it at the drop-off and pick-up, passing out information to families, said Chris Clauss, a special education teacher at Washington High. Educators at the high school also held teach-ins on Monday and Tuesday to inform students about the Wednesday protest, and posted asynchronous work so that students wouldn’t miss out on a day of learning, Clauss added.

The vigil this afternoon will honor longtime employee Eddy Alarcon, a paraeducator at James Lick Middle School who died this summer. Issues with the payroll left him unenrolled from his insurance at the worst possible time; his sister Jackie has said that “struggling to reinstate insurance with a cancer diagnosis and unable to properly tend to his sickness took a toll on Alarcon and his loved ones.”

In a statement, Superintendent Dr. Matt Wayne pointed to actions taken by the district to remedy the issues, including off-cycle checks, contracting a fixer firm, launching a call center, reassigning staff to payroll issues, and launching a public-facing EMPowerSF website.

In March, Mission Local broke the news that the January rollout of the new payroll system, EMpowerSF, left errors in the paychecks of teachers across the district. In September, the school district hired the management consultant firm Alvarez & Marsal to fix, stabilize and assess the issue in an ongoing contract that will cost up to $2.8 million; Mission Local found that the firm has a troubling history.

At the Oct. 25 Board of Education meeting presentation about the state of the payroll debacle, Wayne said that incoming help tickets were outpacing ticket closures.

“We are fed up with waiting,” Dante Popalisky, a teacher at Washington High School, said in a press release on this afternoon’s rally. “People are leaving or preparing to leave. People at my school and across SFUSD aren’t getting paid.”

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David’s one of those San Francisco natives who gets excited whenever City College is mentioned. He has journalism degrees from there and San Francisco State University, graduating from the latter in May 2021. In college, David played five different roles as an editor at student news publications and reported as an intern for three local newspapers, mostly while waiting tables at the Alamo Drafthouse. His first job was at Mitchell's Ice Cream.

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  1. I did not get paid in September and no one at the payroll office can figure out how to fix the problem. SFUSD took $1200 out of my paycheck each month and for 3 months did not send it to the financial institution where my retirement account is held. My W-4 withholding was changed without my permission, which resulted in an unexpected 6K tax bill. All of these things are highly illegal. I am ready to quit.

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  2. I used to work in SFUSD. It was the worst run establishment I’ve ever encountered. Lot’s of corruption and ill-willed people at 555. The principals were social-climbers who seemed to fake that they care about kids and education. I now work at a private school (Something I swore I’d never do, cause I went to public schools). I make more money now, am healthier, have better co-workers and I’m able to teach.My only regret is not leaving SFUSD sooner. If you’re a teacher in SFUSD, I suggesting leaving before the corruption of bad management takes over your soul.

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  3. Glen Park Elementary and Dolores Huerta also should have had large numbers of participants.

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  4. Well, if teachers actually did “work to rule” like other Unions do (folks in those Unions aren’t do OT for free…and grading at him is OT, teachers are paid for class-in-session time only) then it would be a real wakeup call for folks.

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    1. and pardon my typos as now I see them and can’t edit them (“don’t” do, “home” not him).

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