More than 100 Santa Ana Unified School district teachers and other workers have gone without pay for at least a month, drawing increasing questions about the district’s management. 

The issue came to light last week after a local teacher spoke up this week at the district’s board meeting Tuesday.

Shayna Lathus, a teacher in the district, called into the district’s board meeting relaying concerns about teachers not getting paid. 

One school board member, John Palacio, said he first heard about the problem or union grievances being filed about the stalled paychecks. 

“They haven’t told us anything,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about it for two weeks. In a two week period, they could have resolved those issues. This isn’t complicated. They didn’t do that.”

Lathus called out officials for not paying their employees. 

“This afternoon, I was shocked to learn that our newest certificated staff in our district have not yet been paid. I had heard that they had not yet signed contracts,” Lathus said. “I’m outraged that we have teachers and counselors who are doing everything they can to serve our SAUSD community, and it is appalling that they have not been paid.”

Lathus said she understands the human resources department is short staffed and suggested the district used COVID funds to hire people in that department as well as the payroll department and get staff paid.

“It makes me incredibly sad to know that this is something that our district has accepted as okay. These are people who have been out of work for months. These are people who left other jobs in good faith to come work for our district. They are working for our students, and we are leaving them high and dry,” she said.

Palacio also said it is unacceptable, even illegal for teachers not to get paid.

“When I hear the district saying ‘Well they’re ultimately going to get paid’ that’s not enough. We have a legal responsibility to pay our employees for services rendered. They should be compensated. In the state of California we have real strict laws about compensation for services rendered,” he said.

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It still remains unclear how many staff members have yet to be paid or what their job titles are,  questions district spokesperson Fermin Leal could not answer.

“We don’t have a specific number, but it’s not like hundreds. It is a very small percentage of new hires,” Leal said.

Leal said how long they’ve gone without paychecks and when they can expect to be paid depends on their start date of the employees. 

The issue was first reported in Orange County by the local NBC News Affiliate Bureau Chief Vikki Vargas. 

Barbara Pearson, President of the Santa Ana Educators’ Association, said in a Friday morning interview the association is awaiting a list of people who have yet to be paid from the human resources department.

She also said they’ve been working with the district to get people paid since they first heard about the issue a couple of weeks ago.

“We’ve gotten 111 people paid and so we’re continuing to see if there’s any other people out there who were due paychecks on the 31st and did not receive a paycheck on the 31st,” Pearson said. “The last few days we haven’t heard from any more.”

She said the association has filed two grievances with the district over the pay since they first got wind of the issue on August 31.

“We filed a grievance immediately on August 31 when we found out that people weren’t being paid,” she said. “ We demanded that people be paid something, that there had to be some answer to this, but zero was not acceptable and so we started working to get revolving checks cut from our payroll department and so that started happening immediately.”

The second grievance was filed on Monday for the people who still hadn’t been paid at all as well as the people who had been paid partially.

Pearson said the issue has consumed their everyday work since they were first made aware of it.

She also said they spoke to the district in the beginning of August when they knew the hiring volume was heavy and told them to develop some sort of game plan to process new hires.

“It just never seemed to happen,” Pearson said.

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Leal said the district is bringing on more staff then they have in previous years which has resulted in a backlog in processing at Human Resources and other departments.

“That’s where payroll is impacted because these people aren’t processed, we don’t have all their credential information processed, we don’t have all their other necessary information processed so we’re not able to put them into the payroll system,” he said.

The district has hired more than 350 teachers, counselors and other certificated staff members since the start of summer, according to a statement from the district sent to the Voice of OC Thursday evening.

“As a result of bringing so many new staff members on board in a relatively short amount of time, delays have occurred in the processing of new hire documentation for a small percentage of staff members. This situation has resulted in disrupting their initial paycycle by delaying some employees’ initial paychecks,” reads the statement.

The statement also said the district’s human resources staff are processing all employee records so they receive their stalled paychecks. 

The teachers union representative, Pearson, said that the volume of new hires does not correspond in size to the amount of people there are to do data entry and if the district had started the hiring process earlier this issue could have probably been avoided.

“It certainly wouldn’t have been as bad,” she said. “The amount of people we’re hiring is heavier than any districts that we know of but certainly getting a longer running start on this, would have certainly reduced it significantly, if not eliminated altogether.”

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Leal said that the district was in a unique position when it came to the hiring process because it was one of the only districts that didn’t return to in person instruction till this fall and they have a staff shortage in pretty much every department.

“We were unsure how many new teachers we would need, how many students would be coming back. There’s all these things that were up in the air until we started school again. Other schools who were in person — they were more on top of that, because they had returned earlier,” he said.

Not everyone agrees.

Palacio said the district knew they needed to hire people for a while and that while classes started on Aug. 16, the academic year started July 1 adding that he and Trustee Valerie Amezcua told the district to start the hiring and training process early.

“Since November they were told we had a number of retirees, and they were told to hire as soon as they can,” he said.

Palacio said the district didn’t do that and when the school district started the hiring process for this year most school districts had already hired staff.

“Most school districts started recruiting in January, February,” he said. “We started recruiting in May. Sure, you’re going to have a shortage, because we didn’t start the process early.”

The district conducted multiple surveys last year to determine how many students would be returning to the classroom and how many would remain online, which Palacio said gives the district insight on how many people they would need to hire. 

He said part of the reason the district needs staff is because some people have retired including people in human resources and in the payroll department. 

Palacio said in a follow text Friday there was a large incentive to retire last year to reduce future personnel costs.

294 employees retired effective July 1, 2021 and 156 of them were teachers, the text reads.

Leal said the district doesn’t expect to stop the hiring process anytime soon.

“We’re going to continue hiring in the next weeks to come,” he said.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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