SF teachers are resigning in big numbers. The payroll fiasco probably isn’t helping

For Rebecca Fedorko, a special education teacher at San Francisco’s Sutro Elementary, there’s nothing better than seeing the moment for a dyslexic or autistic child when her teaching clicks. Suddenly, after spending many hours with Fedorko, the students can turn the individual letter sounds into words. They can read.

It’s one more pain point for a profession under intense pressure – and it’s contributing to an average of one teacher or classroom aide in San Francisco quitting each day. Resigning in the middle of the year is “extremely unusual,” but 20 to 30 teachers and aides are leaving every month, said Frank Lara, vice president of the local teachers’ union. School districts in other parts of the state and country are seeing far more midyear resignations than normal too due to pandemic burnout, but the payroll fiasco is an only-in-San-Francisco wrinkle potentially making the numbers here even worse.

“We’re seeing the cumulative effect in the frustration of educators who are choosing with their feet to not be in this profession or not be in San Francisco,” Lara said, noting the union discourages midyear resignations because it can put teachers’ credentials at risk, but staff are leaving anyway.

Students at Burton High get on the bus after school in San Francisco. A new payroll system full of glitches has prompted a record number of SF teachers burned out by the pandemic to leave.

Photos by Justin Katigbak / Special to The Chronicle

He said a normal year sees 600 people retire or resign out of the union’s 5,000 teachers and aides, but he expects this year’s final tally will be “much more than that.” A spokesperson for the school district said it could not provide the number of resignations and retirements.

Fedorko might be among those leaving. This school year was already hard due to her students struggling academically and emotionally in the wake of endless Zoom school during the pandemic. But then her paychecks went bonkers.

She agreed to tutor kids in reading for extra hours after school to help them catch up, but that extra pay did not come through. When she received it retroactively in one lump sum, there was no breakdown of the hours worked or hourly rate, and it was taxed higher than she expected. When she missed seven days of work in January after contracting COVID, she was not paid properly for those days, either.

“I have to be a forensic accountant on every one of my paychecks now,” she said. “I’ve been sending them to my uncle who’s a CPA to help me figure out what’s going on.”

Then, because the school district unexpectedly paid the usual January check on Dec. 30 and appears to have reduced withholdings without teachers’ knowledge, the 2021 taxes Fedorko finished on Monday showed her owing $ 2,100 when she’d always gotten a refund before.

“I started crying,” she said. “I feel like such a loser. I’m a grown woman, and this tax bill is half of my monthly pay. ”

David Knight points at the spreadsheet he uses to keep track of the teachers that have quit over the year San Francisco.

David Knight points at the spreadsheet he uses to keep track of the teachers that have quit over the year San Francisco.

Justin Katigbak / Special to The Chronicle

Meanwhile, the 31-year-old looks at her friends in the city who have work-from-home jobs that pay quadruple what she does with a lot less stress and a lot more flexibility – they can grab a beer with co-workers! in the middle of the day! – and wonders what she’s doing.

“I’m sitting there until 8 pm doing progress reports at school and eating Top Ramen, and I’m saying, ‘Why am I doing this?'” She said. educator. It feels dehumanizing. ”

It’s hard to fathom underpaid teachers suffering because of a glitchy payroll system nobody seems capable of fixing in one of the richest, most tech-savvy cities in the world. But then, a lot about San Francisco is hard to fathom these days.

The payroll disaster is just one more crisis in a school district riddled with them. As the district copes with a $ 125 million budget gap, there’s still no replacement for Superintendent Vince Matthews who’s retiring June 30, and his deputy, Myong Leigh, told colleagues Monday he’s also leaving at the end of June. Laura Dudnick, a spokesperson for the district, said Leigh’s departure was already planned and had nothing to do with the payroll breakdown he oversaw.

Voters in February recalled three school board members for incompetence and focusing on the wrong priorities during the pandemic, but the ineptitude certainly was not limited to just them.

The district issued a request for proposals to replace its old payroll system in 2017, and after years of bumps in the process, Infosys paid $ 13.7 million for a payroll system called EmPowerSF that debuted a few months ago, but does not seem to empower anybody , let alone pay them the right amount. Hundreds of teachers have reported being underpaid, not paid at all, owing far more in taxes than they expected or having retirement contributions vanish.

Matthews apologized, put more workers on the task of fixing the glitches, which under the contract strangely aren’t the responsibility of Infosys, and promised to make the teachers whole – with 15% interest.

“SFUSD is aggressively working to resolve issues,” Dudnick said Tuesday. “Every staff member will be paid the money they are owed.”

David Knight, a French and economics teacher at Burton High in San Francisco, helps his colleagues review their paychecks for problems and compiles a spreadsheet of all the issues.  He has found countless irregularities.

David Knight, a French and economics teacher at Burton High in San Francisco, helps his colleagues review their paychecks for problems and compiles a spreadsheet of all the issues. He has found countless irregularities.

Justin Katigbak / Special to The Chronicle

Staff will update the school board’s budget committee about EmPowerSF on Wednesday.

But some teachers reported their most recent paychecks were flawed, too, and many of the existing mistakes have not been fixed. Teachers on leave – including one with a new baby and another caring for parents with COVID – have received no pay, Lara said.

Dudnick did not respond to questions about whether Matthews’ own paychecks totaling more than $ 300,000 a year have been affected, but said some people in the central office have seen mistakes on their checks.

David Knight, a French and economics teacher at Burton High, has become a de facto expert in the payroll problems, reviewing his colleagues’ paychecks for them and compiling a spreadsheet of all the issues.

He usually receives a $ 100 tax refund, but he owes $ 2,600 this year. He discovered that salary add-ons from previous bond and parcel tax measures passed by voters to pay teachers more have been mysteriously lowered on the most recent checks. He also noticed his union dues have varied wildly over the past few months, and he’s been paid different amounts for sick days in different months. A colleague of his is missing $ 4,000 from her maternity leave, and another was short-changed $ 5,000 after agreeing to teach an extra class, he said.

This comes on top of an already challenging year, Knight said, in which many of his students are suffering social anxiety after 18 months of isolation, burying themselves in their phones because they’re so wedded to screens and refusing to participate in class.

He said teachers β€œare doing what you’d expect them to do given the circumstances. They’re going to saner districts. ”

So what would the economics teacher grade the district for its payroll system rollout?

“Well, I would make a lot of red marks on their paper and tell them to resubmit their work,” he said. “If I were them, I’d be embarrassed.”

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