San Diego Unified schools Superintendent Cindy Marten. Photo by Ken Stone

With $45 million set aside to reopen campuses, the San Diego Unified School District is poised to start the new school year on time.

The money is part of a $1.6 billion budget for 2020-21 approved by trustees Tuesday, and may or may not be enough to cover COVID-19 emergency expenditures for the entire year. District officials said the funds will “pave the way” for an on-schedule Aug. 31 reopening that will see students both in class and online.

It’s not yet clear how the money will be spent.

“The COVID-19 crisis is the biggest adaptive challenge to public education of our lifetimes, and we are ready to meet the challenge,” Superintendent Cindy Marten said.

Faced with a crippling $85 million shortfall early this year, the district was able to balance its budget and avoid making spending cuts with state relief funds for released for mitigating learning loss, as well as federal stimulus from the CARES Act.

The district isn’t out of the woods entirely, however, as an expected $208 million shortfall the following year will have to be addressed soon.

Board members said there is a need for continued advocacy at the federal level, especially in passing the HEROES Act, which was approved by the House in May but may not find favor in the Senate. The stimulus package provides an additional $58 billion to K-12 schools nationwide.

According to the district, school leaders lobbied the state successfully for a number of changed to the budget signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom Monday for allowances that include:

  • Undoing a 10% cut to Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) estimated at about $100 million as proposed in the 2020-21 May Revise and instead utilizing deferrals and federal advocacy to mitigate cuts;
  • Securing learning loss funds to cover COVID-19 costs and to support reopening of schools, which totaled $91.8 million for San Diego Unified;
  • Adopting a pension buydown of employer contribution rates for 2020-21 and 2021-22, and a CalSTRS pension rate freeze for 2020-21, which amounts to an estimated savings of $17 million for San Diego Unified in the next school year;
  • Advocating for special education funding based on the moderate-to-severe disability of students, which resulted in the allocation of $100 million for the low-incidence pool add-on that provides $2.4 million for San Diego Unified.

The Senate is set to argue a relief package introduced this week, with $430 billion just for education and child care, when it returns from break in mid-July.

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