Former teachers at Saskatoon independent school claim missing wages: ‘I trusted her’

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Former employees of Wild Spirit Education in Saskatoon claim they are owed tens of thousands of dollars in lost wages.

Wild Spirit Education Ltd. is a registered independent school for toddlers, preschools, nurseries and grades 1 to 12, run by Christa Nelson, the head of school. The school is licensed by the province, but is not funded by the government.

Seven former employees spoke to Global News and alleged that Nelson would delay their wages over time, pay them less than their salaries or not pay them at all. They claim they are short about $40,000.

“Over time it became significant amounts of times and significant amounts of money. And by the time it’s almost six months, you’re missing out on thousands of dollars,” said Ella Hagen, a former Wild Spirit Education teacher.

Former staff claim Nelson would take no action if they asked about their wages.

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“All we got were excuses and blame, and it was very frustrating,” said Jamie Cleveland, a former teaching assistant at Wild Spirit Education.

After leaving their positions at Wild Spirit Education, employees took their concerns to the labor board.

The Ministry of Industrial Relations stated that it has “received several claims from employees of Wild Spirit Education Ltd. over unpaid wages, and the Employment Standards Branch is investigating.”

Global News contacted Nelson, who said in an emailed statement that she is cooperating with the ministry regarding claims made by former employees, but provided no further comment on the allegations.

Cleveland, an employee of nine years, said it wasn’t always this way, adding that she noticed a shift in 2017, when she claimed staff were forced to take a pay cut. From that point on, she claims paychecks became inconsistent and sales increased.

“I gave a lot of grace to, in retrospect, red flags that led to things because I trusted her. I knew her as a mother. I knew her more as a friend. I knew her to be a great boss,” Cleveland said.

But Cleveland says those “red flags” piled up over the years. She and several other employees paid monthly insurance benefits through Nelson. She claims it wasn’t until she had a medical emergency with her child that she found out she didn’t have insurance.

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“She knew damn well I didn’t just have hundreds and hundreds of dollars for an emergency, because at that point I hadn’t even gotten my paycheck for the last few months,” Cleveland said. “And then she lied to my face. And that was, I think, a very eye-opening moment for me.

Cleveland also claimed that Nelson had organized a fundraiser through the charity Make it Sow, but months later the money had still not reached the charity.

“I have not heard whether this has now been paid, but it had not yet been paid at the end of April. And I was still getting requests for the money that was given to her the January before,” Cleveland said.

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Global News asked Nelson about the charity fundraiser, but she did not comment.

Cleveland admits he’s ashamed to have been part of this ongoing “cycle” for so long. She often turned a blind eye to some incidents, believing she was there for the right reasons: the students.

“I stood up for this woman. I know life is complicated and things happen. But I gave her so much grace. And now I feel like a fool. And I feel fully utilized,” Cleveland said.

A school parent has started a GoFundMe page to help those missing significant amounts of money. While the former staff is grateful for the support, they would not recommend Wild Spirit Education to anyone.

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“I don’t recommend it. I don’t recommend parents send their children there because they don’t get what they pay for,” said Lina Shaya, a former teacher at Wild Spirit Education.

In the future, the former employees say they hope to get their missing money back.

“When staff leave because they simply can’t stay paid, more staff fills in, and the cycle continues,” says Hagen.

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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