A grant from the Gates Foundation to help run small high schools dries up this December, leaving San Diego Unified with the question of how to pay — or whether to pay — the employees who are paid for by the grant.

This is a recurring issue for schools in San Diego and nationwide. Money shows up. Schools snap it up and try out new things. And then the money disappears, leaving schools to figure out how to keep up the programs without the extra dough.

Two grants helped San Diego Unified break up some of its large high schools into several smaller schools-within-a-school, a move that has had mixed success among the different schools. The last of the money from the second grant, which shelled out an average of more than $1.5 million for three years, will disappear at the end of December. The cutoff will happen in the middle of the school year.

That grant pays the salaries for Mel Collins, the executive principal who oversees the Lincoln High School complex, four “school site operations specialists” who cover the business operations of the schools, and two staffers at the Office of Small School Innovation, said Tony Burks, executive director of that office, whose job is one of those in jeopardy.

“I could very well be seeking employment elsewhere,” Burks said. He added, “The understanding I have is that in December, the grant ends, there are no funds to support the positions so the positions don’t exist.”

If those jobs do survive, they would have to be paid for out of San Diego Unified funds for the first time, which is not a welcome prospect in the middle of a budget crisis. Remember that budget crisis? It’s kind of a big deal.

EMILY ALPERT

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