San Diego Unified School District has $45 million to reopen ⁠— to some degree

San Diego Unified School District headquarters
The San Diego Unified School District board passed a $1.5 billion budget that includes $45 million specifically to reopen campuses from their coronavirus closure.

The San Diego Unified School District board has passed a $1.5 billion budget that avoids spending cuts and includes $45 million specifically to reopen campuses from their coronavirus-triggered closure.

But officials don’t yet know exactly what that $45 million will be spent on and how much of a reopened school year it will provide.

“Forty-five million [dollars] is very unlikely to be enough for reopening for the entire year,” board Vice President Richard Barrera said after the June 30 board meeting.

Most San Diego Unified families want to return to in-person school in the fall, Superintendent Cindy Marten said, referring to an ongoing survey of district families.

About 58 percent of respondents said they want their children to attend school in person full time, and about 11 percent said they want online learning only. About 31 percent said they want a combination of both.

The district says it will offer all three options.

San Diego Unified plans to reopen on its original school start date of Aug. 31.

Reopening will be expensive and likely will require the district to hire many more staff members to perform daily health checks and reduce class sizes. Though district officials praised the state budget, they said they still need more federal funding to ensure a complete and safe reopening.

“Our work is not done. The fight now has simply shifted to Washington, D.C.,” Marten said at the meeting.

Earlier this year, San Diego Unified — which with 102,000 students is the state’s second-largest school district — had projected an $84 million shortfall for the 2020-21 school year. That deficit was eliminated largely thanks to coronavirus aid that schools have been allocated from the state and federal governments.

San Diego Unified expects to get an additional $92 million from the state specifically for mitigating learning loss due to the coronavirus disruption, as well as $31 million from the CARES Act federal stimulus.

But the district is projecting a $169 million shortfall in 2021 and a $208 million shortfall the following school year. The aid that helped close the budget gap this year was one-time money.

Under the state budget signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on June 29, K-12 schools will receive the same amount of general state funding as they did this past school year to ensure funding stability amid potential school closures and changing learning models due to the coronavirus. That protects districts like San Diego Unified — which was predicting a continued decline in enrollment this year — from losing state funds, which usually are tied to the number of students attending school in a district, Barrera said.

However, $11 billion will be deferred, meaning schools will not receive it until the following school year. About $6 billion of the deferrals can be canceled if the federal government steps up with money to offset them, the state budget says.

The San Diego Unified board approved borrowing $280 million to help with cash needs amid the deferrals. That is to be repaid by the end of the school year.

The state budget includes about $5 billion for schools ⁠— most of which comes from federal aid ⁠— to specifically address learning loss due to the virus.

It also eases schools’ pension costs by about $2 billion, which amounts to $17 million in savings for San Diego Unified.

In May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act, which would be the second coronavirus federal aid package and would provide $58 billion to K-12 education, but it is unlikely to succeed as is in the Senate. On June 30, two Democratic senators introduced a $430 billion relief package specifically for education and child care.

Barrera said he doesn’t expect definitive news on whether schools will get more federal aid until the end of July, when the CARES Act extra unemployment benefit will expire.