SFUSD EmPower Payroll: Promise, Fail, Get $, Rinse, Repeat

by on October 3, 2022

Some Teachers Still Not Timely Paid

With the paychecks delivered last Friday, some San Francisco Unified School District teachers were paid nothing for the past four weeks. It’s now been nine months that hundreds of teachers and staff have complained about paychecks with improper deductions, paychecks with incorrectly canceled benefits, and paychecks with major miscalculations. The newly implemented EmPower payroll software system continues to fail for so many.

How did things go so wrong for so long?

District staff have gone back to ask the Board of Education for more money for this payroll software program three times now, bringing the original $9.5 million dollar contract to $16.5 million and likely more. On September 14, the Board of Education Commissioners unanimously approved the district plan to pay an outside consultant $175,000 per week to help triage the concerns, and then to stabilize the system. It’s now been three cycles of promises, failure, and getting more money.

Teachers have held sleepovers. Both teachers and service staff have had rallies. Now some teachers are threatening to quit. Hopefully the district staff and new consultants can address these complaints soon.

Yet to get to where we are took failures from many.

In an October 2019 ad hoc committee meeting, district staff declared Infosys the winning vendor of five applicants to the contract to replace the prior payroll software. To justify the $9.5 million expense while the district was running in the red by tens of millions of dollars, presenters made the case that the prior seventeen year old payment system needed replacing.

One slide described the current status as multiple systems “piecemealed together.” A promise on slide 9 read, “staff from HR, DoT and Business Services will invest significant staff time to work with our implementation partner and … Exhaustively test what we build.” (emphasis mine)

On October 15, 2019, the Board of Education Commissioners approved the Infosys contract without discussion. The five present Commissioners voted unanimously in support: Stevon Cook, Jenny Lam, Gabriela Lopez, Faauuga Moliga, and Mark Sanchez.

As the COVID pandemic affected so many schedules, the planned January 2021 rollout of the new payroll software system missed its stated goal. Courtney Graham, the then acting Chief of Human Resources, described the situation at a June 2, 2021 Budget Committee meeting as ready to launch one month later, in July. She said, “And now that we’re ready to have it go live, having experts at the table with us to make sure that staff who’ve been working nonstop throughout this pandemic. They’ve been doing their day to day jobs and this project during an extremely difficult time. We need more time for HR staff, and my team on business services technology to fully adopt the new system capabilities.”

One member of the public was fine with the extension, but wanted to know the reason to seek more money. John Varga said, “I’m trying to figure out perhaps I’ve missed the element of extending the go live date to July 2021, brought with it a $1.5 million expense. And I’m not sure that I understand how it is that would create a $1.5 million expense. And I’m hoping you could elaborate a little bit on that.” Neither Budget Chair Lam nor Commissioner Sanchez decided to pursue this question any further than accepting Graham’s plea for additional support.

Alexander did ask the question when the item was brought to the full board for vote on June 22, 2021. He said, “I understand why the timeline was pushed back. But what I’m not clear on is why there’s such a large increase- it’s like a 20% increase in the contract cost for this additional support after we make the transition… I’m not super comfortable with it.”

Deputy Superintendent Myeong Leigh, now retired, responded, “We do need robust support… We just need technical support to adopt this really, really critical stage of the go live migration. And I’ll follow your lead in terms of how many more details you’d like.” Alexander declined to pursue the item further but he did vote against this additional cost. Six Commissioners voted in favor of the extension: Kevine Boggess, Alison Collins, Lam, Lopez, Moliga, and Sanchez.

Four months later, at the October 26 board meeting, district staff sought approval of another extension to the Infosys contract, with an additional $2.6 million price tag. Superintendent Vincent Matthews, now retired, had previously pulled that same request for consideration at the September 28 board meeting, with no explanation.

As the date to take the software live was pushed to January 2022, additional funds were sought. District staff attached a document to the agenda explaining the need: “Now, the proposed second contract amendment secures Infosys’ support through the new January 2022 go-live and allows for ongoing support through February 2023.

The change in timeline provided the opportunity for the project team to collaborate with our labor partners on several critical system configurations… The extended timeline also provides time to complete system testing around the change in scope, confirm data processes, and provide additional training to end users.” (emphasis mine)

No member of the public and no Commissioner commented before the vote on this second extension. Six Commissioners voted in favor: Alexander, Boggess, Lam, Lopez, Moliga, Sanchez. Collins was not present.

With this latest $2.8 million contract with an outside consulting firm, there were new promises. How can we feel reassured? Are the right people in charge?

Filed under: Labor & Education