Morning Report: How School Districts Are Spending Relief Funds

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Morning Report: How School Districts Are Spending Relief Funds

san diego school covid
A third-grade student at Encanto Elementary watches a video during class. San Diego Unified School District reopened classrooms to students whose families have opted to return to in-person instruction. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

San Diego Unified spent its share of CARES Act funds – the first major federal relief package that sent nearly $296 million to 161 public K-12 San Diego County school districts and charter schools to help deal with the virus’ impact – on three categories: distance learning, personal protective equipment and food. Some districts divvied out funding to a far wider range of services. Most, but not all, spent the majority of funds on distance learning verses preparing classrooms for an eventual return to in-person learning.

These are some of the takeaways from Ashly McGlone’s latest analysis of how the 10 largest school districts in the county used the first big wave of federal relief money. The spending sheds light on the district’s priorities during the initial months of the pandemic. 

Some interesting outliers: “It turns out Sweetwater’s personnel spending using CARES Act aid dramatically outpaced its peers, while Oceanside Unified School District’s spending on PPE surpassed all else at the district. San Marcos Unified was also an outlier, spending more on crisis counseling than distance learning, the state data shows.”

MTS Announces Reforms After Officers Killed Unarmed Man in 2019

Metropolitan Transit System leaders on Monday announced the agency and its outside security firm reached a $5.5 million settlement with the family of a man who died in October 2019 after an officers held a knee to his neck for several minutes.

Angel Zapata Hernandez, 24, had been held face down on the railroad tracks near Santa Fe Depot after fleeing from MTS officers and then allowing them to handcuff him. Hernandez stopped breathing while he was restrained.

MTS officials described a series of reforms the agency has made as part of the settlement, including bans on certain restraints and increased transparency in the disciplinary process for MTS security workers. MTS said it would also establish a civilian oversight committee at the urging of Hernandez’s family and their attorney.

The Union-Tribune reported that District Attorney Summer Stephan’s office decided not to pursue charges against the MTS code compliance officer and the contract security officer who responded to the incident, finding that criminal liability “could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”

MTS said both officers have since resigned from the agency.

The incident again spotlights MTS’s unique security force of non-sworn code compliance officers who enforce various quality of life crimes and contract security guards from Allied Universal, who are sometimes armed, who accompany MTS officers on their patrols. As Lisa Halverstadt and Jesse Marx reported last year, MTS officials have been exploring what structure the agency’s enforcement arm should take as the agency prepares to select a new security contractor.

County Reverses Course on Homeless Hotel Reimbursement

For months, homeless advocates have pleaded with San Diego County officials to seek federal emergency funds in hopes they might expand a county program that has put vulnerable San Diegans up in hotels during the pandemic. Now the county says it plans to seek Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursements after all – but as Lisa Halverstadt reports, the impact of the decision isn’t yet clear.

FEMA reimbursements could free up other federal coronavirus aid the county had planned to use for the hotel program that has cost more than $24.8 million. but the county isn’t saying what it might do with that freed up cash. It also isn’t committing to expanding the hotel program.

A county spokesman told Halverstadt that the county is continuing to evaluate the state of the pandemic and various funding sources for its response, and that the hotel program is “continually being re-evaluated based on the need to protect and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Biden Breaks Two Border Promises

In the latest Border Report, Gustavo Solis examines two recent decisions by President Joe Biden that conflict with promises he made while running for office. 

On Friday, Biden announced his administration would keep the refugee cap at the same historically low level set by President Donald Trump. That decision is a big deal in San Diego, Solis explains: “More refugees have resettled in San Diego County than anywhere else in California. This has been the case here since after the Vietnam War, when hundreds of thousands of southeastern Asian refugees were resettled in Camp Pendleton and many stayed. The county has multiple resettlement agencies and established immigrant communities.”

After significant backlash, Biden announced he plans to raise the cap in the near future.

Solis noted that the use of eminent domain – a process by which the government can seize private land – is still being employed to make way for the border wall, despite promises from Biden that it would stop.

In Other News

  • Andrew Keatts has been reporting on the ways in which a state law has thrown city plans to redevelop the Sports Arena site into disarray. But in a new op-ed, longtime planner Susan Baldwin throws cold water on those plans, and says the city should embrace its opportunity to provide affordable housing for a mix of income levels.
  • Mayor Todd Gloria on Monday detailed his plans for $10 million in additional homelessness spending in his proposed budget for next year. Among the proposed investments broken down by NBC 7 San Diego: 300 new shelter beds, 65 short-term beds for people who need to detox plus bolstered rapid rehousing assistance and street outreach.
  • Two UCSD scientists detail how COVID-19 spreads through the air in a new medical journal article. One of the authors, Kim Prather, spoke at length to VOSD about how schools should prepare in order to address the spread. (KPBS)

The Morning Report was written by Sara Libby and Lisa Halverstadt, and edited by Scott Lewis.

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