Morning Report: Majority of Schools’ COVID-19 Funds Went to Employee Pay

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Morning Report: Majority of Schools’ COVID-19 Funds Went to Employee Pay

escondido schools covid
Students walk to class at Bear Valley Middle School. The Escondido Union School District has offered a hybrid model that includes in-person instruction. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Over the last year, school districts across San Diego saw an influx of state and federal aid on top of the normal funding they receive.

Many remained closed. But that did not stop school districts from spending millions of COVID-19 relief dollars on employees, alleviating pressure on their payrolls.

Ashly McGlone did a deep-dive analysis of district records across San Diego County and found that of the nearly $178 million in coronavirus aid funds San Diego County’s 10 largest school districts spent through December 2020, almost $90 million — or 51 percent — went to employee pay and benefit costs. 

The pay that went to employees took various forms and are generally allowed under coronavirus relief spending rules. But guidance from the U.S. Treasury drives home that the money was meant to pay for new needs — it was not intended to be used on payroll expenses generally.

That said, the aid money freed up other school district general funds. Many of those accounts were strapped for cash before the pandemic.

At least some lawmakers, and more than a few parents, were upset that the additional money didn’t cause more school reopenings sooner. Earlier this year, one assemblyman said the closures “caused significant harm” and the new state aid package would “take all the excuses off the table.” 

Season Two of San Diego 101 Is Here

Our video explainer series San Diego 101 is back.

In the new season of short videos that help explain how the region works, we tackle how San Diego’s city charter works and how residents can make changes to it. We examine who polices the police (hint: the police mostly police themselves). We also explained the process and sources from which schools get funding, and the Tijuana River sewage crisis that has been closing down South Bay beaches for years.

These videos are a great resource if you’ve been looking to understand an important topic but have been deterred by the jargon or complicated processes surrounding it. Understanding how your government works is a big piece of civic participation, and these videos are great tools to help make that possible.

San Diego’s Budget, Explained

Mayor Todd Gloria recently released his $4.6 billion proposed budget, kicking off a review process that’ll run until the next fiscal year starts in July. Normally that process is fairly quiet, drawing attention from the usual cast of characters: lobbyists and a few community organizers.  

Last year was different. Days after the death of George Floyd, hundreds of residents turned out to urge the City Council to cut the Police Department’s budget. Then-Mayor Kevin Faulconer was unmoved and City Council members who were otherwise sympathetic said it was too late to make any big changes. 

“The ordeal highlighted the confusing and bureaucratic process of approving the city’s multibillion-dollar budget,” Maya Srikrishnan writes in a new story about what to expect this time around

We’re likely to hear the same demands for SDPD cuts, but the new mayor’s deputy chief of staff has already attributed a $19 million increase in the SDPD budget to ongoing pension obligations. 

Lisa Halverstadt hosted a panel discussion on the budget last week. 

Scott Lewis, Andrew Keatts and Sara Libby dug into the budget on the podcast to get a sense of where Gloria stands on a bunch of city services. There’s a lot to consider, including fewer library hours, salary increases, more firefighters, beds for substance abusers, infrastructure and, last but certainly not least, climate change — you know, the thing we created that now threatens to consume us. 

Politics Roundup

  • Lewis and Keatts report that the mayor still has some discretion over police funding: “To wipe away $19 million more in spending, that would be 150 or more police officer jobs.” But his director of policy said that’s not an option. Lewis and Keatts also look at the renewed interest in trash collection. Many single-family homes pay no special fee for trash pickup but many residents of apartment and condo complexes have to pay private companies to come get their trash.
  • The California Legislature is in the thick of vetting and amending bills. Sara Libby has a roundup in the Sacramento Report of the bills that various San Diego agencies want passed. The county, for instance, is in favor of several pieces of legislation that would expand services of unauthorized immigrants. The Chamber is going to bat for businesses that sell cannabis and alcohol. SANDAG supports more money for coastal cliff erosion research. And more. 

In Other News

The Morning Report was written by Jesse Marx, and edited by Sara Libby.

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