The San Francisco Unified School District, which last year introduced a costly and dysfunctional payroll system that underpaid and mispaid scads of its employees, has managed to once again miss a pay date for hundreds of its workers.
Some 815 of the district’s lower-paid workers — including lunch servers, janitors and clerks — did not receive an anticipated check July 12. Instead, they received an email July 11 from the district stating that it was “unable to implement that timeline successfully,” and indicating payment would be received in two weeks’ time, on July 26.
That’s an unanticipated two-week delay for SFUSD employees earning modest salaries, who last received a check all the way back in early June. According to the SEIU 1021 union, the average salary of the affected workers ranges between $55,000 and $64,000.
“We’re all in debt. We’re all struggling,” said Rashida Johnson, a family liaison at Hillcrest Elementary School. “I am definitely 100 percent accustomed to being stiffed by the district. I am so accustomed to that.”
After scores of affected workers contacted their union representatives and the district’s HR department — and after Mission Local contacted the district — employees on the evening of July 12 received an email stating they should receive a check no later than July 17.
‘I was prepared’
The district’s recent record on making timely payments is spotty enough that multiple district employees said they’d prepared for a payment problem ahead of time.
Antonaé Robertson, a senior clerk at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, said she proactively put money aside in anticipation that there would be some manner of foul-up.
“I was prepared,” she says with a wry laugh. She was expecting a discrepancy, “but not like this! I was expecting I’d get the direct deposit and it wouldn’t be right. Like last year.”
Perhaps most galling for the affected nutrition workers, clerk typists, custodians and others is that SFUSD is, in effect, failing to pay them the money they already put aside. Robertson put aside more money in anticipation that the district wouldn’t get her the money she put aside.
The 815 workers are participants in California’s Classified School Employee Summer Assistance Program, in which low-paid district employees who do not work the summer months remit a portion of every paycheck back to the district so they’ll receive payments during the months that school is out of session. These funds from the employees are supplemented by money from the state, which matches the contributions of workers earning $70,000 or less up to 10 percent of their salary.
The SFUSD is merely the custodian for these funds. For the workers in question, this adds insult to injury.
“It’s not their money. It’s our money. We were expecting it, and we didn’t get it,” said Camelia Alcantar, a clerk at Guadalupe Elementary School. “It’s not like I’m working for some small little company. SFUSD is a big, reputable district.”
Alcantar flew out to Texas on July 12 to visit her grown children — the same day she was expecting the $200 she deducted from every paycheck and matching state funds to hit her bank account. That was a payment she figured would be about $4,200. She didn’t get it.
“I was counting on this money,” she said. “I’m just sick of all this.”
While the district acknowledged that it intended to make the payments by July 12, this date was presented as “preliminary,” and not something set in stone. The district offered no explanation as to why the payments were not made. Nor was there an explanation of how soon it became apparent to district management that the July 12 date was untenable — and if it would have been possible to give workers more warning than hours before they were expecting to be paid.
Workers noted that anyone not monitoring his or her work email during months when district employees are, by and large, not working would’ve missed the warning entirely.
“Every employee who has elected to participate in the CSESAP program will be paid their full amount,” read a statement from the district.
The SFUSD suffered through the disastrous rollout of the costly EmPowerSF payroll system in 2022, which managed to underpay, overpay and mispay employees, fail to make contributions to retirement accounts and healthcare systems and, in general, render reading through a payslip an anxiety-inducing experience for district workers.
Some of the 815 affected classified employees say that they suffered through EmPower-related mis-payments before their present situation, and are feeling fatigued.
“We hold so many roles people don’t see,” said Karis Zaldivar, a secretary at Willie L. Brown Middle School. “I am a councilor some days, a social worker some days, a translator. I like helping kids out. But this amount of work is overwhelming for them to not be paying us on time.”