Thursday, Jan. 3, 2008 | San Diego Unified schools misspent more than $3 million in federal funding earmarked for child nutrition and low-income students to pay a one-time bonus to retirees, a federal audit concluded.
“This money was supposed to be in the classroom,” said David Page, chairperson of the district’s Advisory Council for Compensatory Education. Page first questioned the spending in 2004, and felt the audit validated his worries. “You want to use money for the poorest kids to support the retirement of all these teachers? That’s ridiculous.”
Feds Pick up Retiree Tab
State auditors disagree with the federal Department of Education’s finding, which recommends that San Diego Unified pour money back into Title 1, a federal program for disadvantaged kids, and other national programs tapped to pay retirees. How — and whether — the money will be repaid is unclear.
“They’re going to have to figure out where that money is coming from,” said Camille Zombro, president of the San Diego Education Association. “But it’s not coming out of [retirees’] pockets.”
The retirement plan, approved in 2003, boosted benefits for San Diego Unified employees who left the district by July 2003. To coax teachers and principals to retire, San Diego Unified offered employees 7 percent of their salary annually, adding to the regular retirement benefits they’d already earned. The $84 million plan was intended to save schools as much as $20 million a year by replacing long-serving, higher-paid workers with less experienced, lower-earning educators.