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

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

Seven former employees spoke to Global News, alleging that over time, Nelson would delay their pay, pay them less than their salary or not pay them at all. They allege they are short by approximately $40,000.

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

Former staff claim Nelson would not take action when they would ask about their pay.

“We were just met with excuses and blame, and it was very frustrating,” said Jamie Cleveland, a former educational essistant at Wild Spirit Education.

After leaving their positions at Wild Spirit Education, the staff took their concerns to the labour board.

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

Global News contacted Nelson, who, in an emailed statement, said she is working with the ministry regarding claims of former employees but made no further comments on the allegations.

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

“I gave a lot of grace to any, in hindsight, red flags kind of leading up to things because I trusted her. I knew her as a mom. I knew her as kind of more of a friend. I knew her as an amazing boss,” Cleveland said.

But Cleveland says that over the years, those “red flags” started piling up. She and some other employees were making monthly insurance payments through Nelson. She claims it was only during a medical emergency with her child that she found out she didn’t have any insurance.

“She knew darn well that I didn’t have hundreds and hundreds of dollars just sitting for an emergency because I hadn’t even been paid my salary for the last couple of months at that point, either,” Cleveland said. “And then she kind of lied straight to my face. And that was, I guess, a very eye-opening moment for me.”

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

“I haven’t heard if that’s been paid up now, but as of the end of April, it hadn’t been paid. And I was still getting requests for that money that was given to her in January for that,” Cleveland said.

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

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

“I stood up for this woman. I know that life is complicated and that things are going on. But I gave her so much grace. And now I feel like a fool. And I feel completely taken advantage of,” Cleveland said.

A school parent started a GoFundMe page to help those who are missing significant funds. Although the former staff are grateful for the support, they would not recommend Wild Spirit Education to anyone.

“I don’t recommend it. I don’t recommend parents to send their kids there because they’re not getting what they paying for,” said Lina Shaya, a former teacher at Wild Spirit Education.

Going forward, the former staff say they hope to receive their missing money.

“As staff leave, because they just can’t continue to not be paid, more staff fill that, and the cycle just continues,” Hagen said.