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The San Marcos Unified School District spent more than $6 million in federal aid on its employees. File photo
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A look at how San Marcos Unified spent its COVID-19 relief funds

SAN MARCOS – The San Marcos Unified School District (SMUSD) was one of the hundreds of school districts across the state that was awarded three rounds of federal COVID-19 relief funding targeted at helping reopen schools.

According to public records and SMUSD, the district is scheduled to receive approximately $40 million in new COVID-19 relief funds as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed in March 2021. This is in addition to the more than $20 million in relief funding the district already received in 2020.

The American Rescue Plan was the latest in a series of federal aid packages, following the $2 trillion CARES Act in March 2020 and a $900 billion aid package in December 2020.

Last month, SMUSD Interim Superintendent Dr. Tiffany Campbell said the district had not yet received the $40 million in new federal aid, which is intended to be used primarily for reopening efforts.

“While the spending plan for the new stimulus funding is still a work in progress, the funding will support in-person instruction, accelerated learning to address learning gaps, supplemental learning supports, logistics support, and offset any general fund expenditures attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Campbell said.

According to a review of public records by Voice of San Diego and a recent interim budget report by SMUSD, the district spent the majority of its first round of COVID-19 relief funds on its employees, spending more than $6 million on “personnel.”

The data shows other school districts in the region also spent their federal awards in a similar fashion.

Of the CARES Act funding, public records show that SMUSD spent $2.5 million in “other” spending for crisis counseling, while only spending about $2 million on distance learning and $800,000 on personal protective equipment (PPE).

In other words, the district spent 32% of its CARES Act funding on “other,” 27% on distance learning and 10% on PPE.

Michael Taylor, SMUSD’s assistant superintendent of business services, sent this statement to The Coast News:

“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic (March 2020), the district has needed additional personnel beyond Substitute Teachers to support either in-person instruction, accelerated learning, supplemental learning supports, and logistics support. The list below is a general description of the personnel/logistics items needed to support the district’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  1. Extra Custodians to assist with disinfecting and cleaning
  2. Additional personnel to assist with the Information Technology Help Desk (virtual learning)
  3. Substitute Teachers
  4. Extra hours for teachers
  5. Health Aides – extra hours
  6. Risk Management Personnel to assist with contact tracing
  7. Nurses
  8. Counselors/Social Workers
  9. Transportation personnel – drivers/aides
  10. Air purification units
  11. Hand washing stations
  12. Chromebooks
  13. Personal Protective Equipment”

The budget report shows that the district only spent about $12 million of its first-round funds. It is unclear what the rest of the funds will be used for.

The California Legislature also recently approved more than $6 billion in financial assistance for schools as part of Senate Bill 86 in March 2021. The legislation, passed in March 2021, provided a total of $4.6 billion for school districts statewide, with an additional $2 billion to incentivize schools to offer in-person instruction starting April 1, according to EdSource.

SMUSD has faced criticism in recent months from hundreds of parents, community members and members of the Parent Association of North County over its noncompliance with a judge’s order to reopen schools.

Kimberly Imhoff, a SMUSD parent and member of the Parents Association, told The Coast News back in April that many parents haven’t received a clear answer on why federal and state funds haven’t been used to reopen schools as soon as possible.

At the district’s April 20 board meeting, the district voted to expand in-person learning from 2 days a week to 4 days a week for elementary students and from 2 days a week to 3 or 4 days a week for secondary students.

The district has no plans to reopen to 5 days a week for the rest of the school year despite the $40 million in relief funds coming in.

Back in April, Campbell told The Coast News that reopening fully would require the district to hire more staff and teachers. She added that while cost is a factor, it is not the district’s primary concern; recruiting and hiring credentialed teachers and qualified staff is a far greater concern.