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.”