A book with a note on it that reads,'enhancement speed cheese u s'.
Teacher Tara Ramos' stipend check from the SFUSD did not find its way into her bank account

In the latest instance of the San Francisco Unified School District struggling to pay its employees, some of the city’s most-credentialed teachers had their stipend checks bounce last week. 

Multiple public school teachers have reported to Mission Local that their attempts to deposit the $5,000 checks the district pays to National Board Certified instructors have failed. 

“Over the weekend, I went to the ATM to try to deposit it, and the ATM said ‘error,’” said Tara Ramos, a teacher-librarian at Sanchez Elementary School in the Mission. “I took it to the teller, and they tried three different ways and they couldn’t take it.” 

The teller finally stamped the back of the check so it reads, “Endorsement Cancelled.” 

National Board Certified teachers must pass a bevy of tests; it’s a qualification that not quite three percent of teachers achieve. Throughout the San Francisco Public School system, there are a shade under 150 National Board Certified teachers. The district pays them a yearly $5,000 stipend, plus an additional $5,000 to National Board Certified teachers at higher-need schools. This money originates from the state of California; the district merely serves as a pass-through.  

The district sent some 44 “off-cycle” checks this month to instructors who hadn’t received their stipend in October. The district is, thus far, aware of 16 teachers whose checks bounced; how this happened is not yet clear. 

“SFUSD has been working to ensure that the checks are honored and employees receive the money they are owed,” said district spokesperson Laura Dudnick. 

Ramos has taught in the district for 18 years, and at Sanchez for nine. She says this is the first time she’s ever had a check bounce. 

It has, however, been a trying last couple of years. In January 2022, the district rolled out a costly boutique payroll system called EMPowerSF. It was a disaster, and thousands of educators were unpaid, underpaid or mispaid, with money not going to retirement or health accounts, and some district employees lost health care or were disenrolled from retirement accounts. 

The ongoing payroll debacle was a galvanizing factor for the district’s employees. Some 97 percent of teachers — and 99.5 percent of non-educators — this year voted to authorize a strike. Following an all-night bargaining session, a walkout was averted last month. 

National Board Certified teachers also had issues with their stipend payments last year. The district receives instructors’ money from the state and, in turn, pays the teachers. But, in 2022, the district sat on the $745,000 it received from the state for nearly three months, and very nearly missed paying its teachers by the end of the calendar year — which would have created an artificial $5,000 tax burden for teachers in 2023. 

Last year, teachers were ultimately paid their final check of 2022, but only after the district took urgent action at the tail end of December. But, they say, this was a needlessly stressful experience for teachers who just wanted the district to pay them their stipend — with money that wasn’t even the district’s. 

Ramos said this latest misadventure has further eroded her trust in her employer. 

“If they can’t get this right,” she said, “it’s really hard for me to trust them with anything.”  

Follow Us

Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

Join the Conversation


  1. I fail to understand how small businesses can manage to get payroll directly deposited into their employees bank accounts but our school district cannot even send a good check!

    votes. Sign in to vote
  2. Shameful! I heard about these issues from summer onwards via a SFUSD educator. I was astonished that their Administration staff can’t get the paychecks correct, in addition to the retroactive penalties that they are owed for each day missed. Compensation is also impacted for their vacation & sick accruals, FSA, and retirement benefits, as well as other insurance plans. Blaming or scapegoating the EMpower system, or its “gliche” is totally unacceptable and evading the truth of the root cause; managing the HRIS and Payroll systems is ultimately under the accountabilities of HR and Finance. Why haven’t the teachers and non-teaching staff united to get a legal class action suit initiated and file with DIR so that they finally receive these very late payments? Fear of retaliation for the Administration’s incompetence? Where is their Union in taking steps to resolve all this mess? I feel sorry for these folks working hard on behalf of education, yet not receiving overdue compensation.

    votes. Sign in to vote
  3. Hmmmmm. If the city of San Francisco can pay its police officers and fire fighters reliably, consistently and on time, why not our teachers? Good Heavens. I don’t have children yet i know with every part of my brain that teachers and nurses are (and should be) OUR TOP PRIORITY.

    votes. Sign in to vote
    1. Don’t forget your friendly neighborhood social workers as another TOP PRIORITY.

      votes. Sign in to vote
  4. Remember this when SFUSD is going to ask for billions in bond money next year: the district can’t handle it’s own finances, let alone others’.

    votes. Sign in to vote
  5. EmpowerSF is a criminal enterprise disguised as a payroll company, but SFUSD is working hard to make sure teachers get paid? That might be the funniest thing I’ll read today.

    votes. Sign in to vote
  6. The idiocy of any SF City department is wide spread. The SFUSD board
    is on par with the DPW, Building Inspections, et al. Keep in mind that
    the aforementioned SFUSD Board was infatuated with changing the
    names of almost 4 dozen schools. The prior President of the School Board
    was a teacher within one of the schools. And, another member was
    complaining that the high academic achievement Asian-American
    students ” were going white”, an insult. She was upset that her own
    daughter did not qualify for admission to Lowell High School, which
    is the Crown Jewel of the school system. The ouster of those two
    aforementioned, along with one other WOKE SFUSD board member,
    is just the beginning. In the interim, this payroll fiasco is a valid
    reason for vouchers, so that the parents of the ever declining
    SFUSD system will not victimize their children with WOKE policies.

    votes. Sign in to vote
    1. It’s impressive how Mike manages to go from an incompetent bureaucracy to “blame the wokes.”

      votes. Sign in to vote
Leave a comment
Please keep your comments short and civil. Do not leave multiple comments under multiple names on one article. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *