Three health workers say the school district has delayed paying them $1,600 stipends for work they completed during the 2022-2023 school year. They’re just a few of an unknown number of such workers whose pay was late.
The stipend is typically paid in June, and they’ve yet to receive it, despite multiple promises from the district. Most recently, they said, they received an email Wednesday, Aug. 23, saying they would be paid by the end of this week. We will update the story if the checks are received.
The incident is just the latest in which the San Francisco Unified School District has paid workers behind schedule.
“While there were some certificated staff that were paid stipends in a timely manner, there was a delay in processing some payments by about a month,” said an SFUSD spokesperson. “We deeply apologize for this delay. We are reviewing our systems to ensure this does not happen again. We have been communicating directly with impacted employees so that they know when to expect their checks.”
The stipend compensates the outreach workers for running the Youth Outreach Program, which trains high school students to be peer-health advocates. The workers were tasked with coordinating the program, which includes weekly meetings with youth to train them for outreach. The paraeducators said this often required developing new curricula.
The health workers are hired by the district to coordinate wellness centers at schools throughout the city. The stipend is an extra sum for their work with the youth workers.
“We’re at the frontline when it comes to mental health services,” said Christina Lopez, the health-outreach worker at John O’Connell High School. She’s helped coordinate the school’s response to the recent death of former student Damien Gonzalez, who was fatally shot at Mission Recreation Center last Friday.
“It was up to us to do this for our students,” Lopez said about a healing ceremony she organized Wednesday for students mourning Gonzalez. “It takes a community to raise these kids, and we do so much in the schools.”
Typically, workers like Lopez triage students to connect them with a school’s health services, such as nurses, therapists and social workers, and manage affinity peer groups for students.
But two of the healthcare workers said that they weren’t aware they were also responsible for managing the Youth Outreach Program when they accepted the position. Once the school year started, they said they felt underprepared to also train student-outreach workers, since the district didn’t provide curriculum or protected time to do so.
“You’re not there a hundred percent. You’re there twenty percent for all your tasks,” said one worker, who asked to remain anonymous because she feared the district would retaliate. “To me, it’s a disservice to our youth and to our families.”
She and another outreach worker said that they often found themselves doing work outside of billable hours for the program, more hours than the $1,600 end-of-year stipend would cover. Lopez said John O’Connell did its best to pay her overtime for her extra work, but she knew other health-care workers who were not so lucky. “This is why there’s so much turnover in this field,” Lopez said. “We all love our jobs, we love what we do, but it’s disrespectful to give us the runaround.”
Twenty-seven SFUSD schools, which include a majority of the district’s middle and high schools, have a health-outreach-worker position for their wellness centers. Of those 27 spots, six are currently unfilled, even though school began last week.
“Morale is down,” Lopez said. “At the central office, they keep saying everything is fine, but is it really fine? Have they checked in with their outreach workers?” she said. And the Youth Outreach Coordinator stipends of $1,600 aren’t the only stipend to be delayed. According to an email from district employees, the following stipended positions are also awaiting payment: RISE-SF Liaison, LGBTQ Liaison, Diastat Training, Health Advocate, Nutrition Leader. All of these positions are meant to support community health initiatives.
This isn’t the first time SFUSD has been sloppy with its payroll. Earlier this summer, SFUSD employees opted in to have a portion of their school year paychecks held and then paid to them over the summer, to guarantee consistent wages when school wasn’t in session — which the district then failed to do, leaving some of its lowest-paid employees scrambling.
And SFUSD’s employee payment system, EmPowerSF, has been blamed for erratic payments and botched retirement investments since 2022. Earlier this year, United Educators of San Francisco threatened a class-action lawsuit around problems caused by EmPowerSF, though no case was filed after the union reached an agreement with the district about problems with the software.
Lopez is concerned that, if these conditions continue, the outreach workers will be forced to leave their positions. “I’m the one who connects students to services, to a hot meal,” she said. “It does make an impact, and the kids will see that.”