A group of San Francisco teachers rolled up their sleeping bags and headed home Thursday, ending a four-day sit-in, after union and district officials reached an agreement to fix recent payroll problems that shortchanged more than 1,000 educators.
Under the deal with the teachers union, which had threatened a class-action lawsuit over the lost wages, the San Francisco Unified School District agreed to fully compensate all teachers who are still owed money by today (Friday, March 18) and pledged to fix any future payroll errors within three business days of being reported — or “pay the employee the balance owed plus 15% interest per annum.”
The district said it has already addressed more than 90% of the 1,000 cases reported, and was working to resolve the remaining 59 by end of day.
The district also promised to retroactively cover associated expenses resulting from missed payments — such as late fees for credit card or mortgage payments or bills due to lapsed insurance — and to fix an error that prevented teachers from collecting their COVID sick pay.
“We remain committed to ensuring every staff member receives all of the pay they are owed,” Superintendent Vincent Matthews said in a statement.
The school board must still approve the agreement at its meeting scheduled for next Tuesday.
“I do feel good about this agreement and that we don’t have to drag out a long process in court,” said Cassondra Curiel, president of the United Educators of San Francisco, which represents some 6,500 teachers. “We know that we’ve secured an agreement for a penalty that incentivizes the district to move with absolute urgency to fix this, and that penalties will be incurred.”
The payment issues stem from the district’s rocky transition to a new payroll system launched in early January — at a cost of nearly $14 million — replacing an antiquated system it had been using for nearly two decades.
Those errors prompted some 20 teachers and their supporters to occupy the third floor of district headquarters on Monday to pressure officials to immediately compensate teachers.
“We have exhausted our patience,” Curiel said on Monday. “Folks like to say teachers are heroes and angels. We are people. We are parents. We are renters. We are roommates and we are workers. We are professionals. And we must be paid.”
Addressing protesters that evening, district Superintendent Vincent Matthews profusely apologized for the errors.
“We have failed you,” Matthews said. “There is no way that any of you should have had to come down here with sleeping bags to say, ‘Pay us.’ That just shouldn’t happen.”
Matthews said he directed the district’s chief technology officer to oversee the issue and — at least temporarily — quadrupled the number of staff in the payroll department.
While union officials called Thursday’s deal a win, a number of teachers had yet to be paid as of Thursday evening.
Linh Gee, a 12th grade English teacher at Phillip and Sala Burton Academic High School, said she was relieved to hear about the deal, but is still waiting on nearly $4,500 in back pay, and had doubts of receiving it anytime soon.
“I’m not holding my breath,” she said.
Kyle Prince, who teaches ethnic studies at Burton High, said he also was owed about $4,500 for additional hours he worked teaching in the district’s online school. He received $1,200 of that this week, he said, and continues to constantly check his bank account for the balance.
“And that’s what’s most frustrating,” he said. “It seems to me that now on top of dealing with the pandemic, on top of everything else — a changing world landscape — that I now have to audit my check. You have to be vigilant. It is so much work.”
Matthews said once the district finished triaging the immediate crisis, it would begin investigating the more endemic issues that predate the rollout of the new system, including ongoing reports of taxes not being properly withdrawn and irregular payments for summer school hours.
Sarah Gadye, an English teacher at Herbert Hoover Middle School, said that despite the agreement, she and many of her colleagues remain concerned.
“There’s nothing in the agreement about a payroll audit to address the major error that resulted in under-withholding for many employees for all of 2021,” Gadye said.
Some teachers, she said, are creating shared spreadsheets to document ongoing issues, and even hiring professional accountants to identify irregularities.
“Were our W4s altered? This predates [the new system], and the scale of it should be setting off alarm bells,” Gadye said. “I see no signs that SFUSD has the capacity or skill to deal with the mess.”