A teacher at Lafayette Elementary School works with students as San Diego Unified begins phase one of its reopening plan at elementary schools. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Many of San Diego County’s largest school districts – including San Diego Unified and Sweetwater Union High School District – have been living on the edge for years when it comes to their budgets. But now school districts are about to receive an unprecedented windfall

Between CARES Act money that already arrived and the new stimulus money to come, San Diego’s 42 school districts will receive upward of $1.5 billion combined. Exactly what they’ll do with that remains unclear. 

San Diego Unified alone will receive at least $609 million this year in state and federal aid, reports Ashly McGlone. (The final number could be even higher. After this story published, Rep. Scott Peters sent out a release saying San Diego Unified should receive about $342.6 million from the American Rescue Plan, much higher than the $284.7 million estimated by EdSource.)

A relatively small portion of the state money comes with strings attached. Districts that open for some level of in-person learning for certain grades by April 1 will be eligible for the money. If they don’t open on April 1, they lose roughly 1 percent of the money they’re eligible for each day. If they don’t open by May 15, they lose the money entirely. 

The state is also mandating that districts spend a certain portion of funds to mitigate learning loss. But what that means could vary wildly from district to district. It could mean tutoring or summer school. But Sweetwater, in a somewhat controversial move, has used some of its relief funds to pay teachers’ salaries

What school will look like next fall: Many parents have been most concerned about what school will look like next year in districts like San Diego Unified. Would hybrid learning persist and leave parents in charge of managing their kids’ education while they learned remotely for big parts of what would be typical school weeks? 

The San Diego Education Association, the teachers union at San Diego Unified, told its members that the new deal it struck with the district eliminated the possibility of that kind of hybrid education. 

“We won an agreement that students who remain online next year must be taught by online-only educators—which means in-person students will be served by in-person educators,” reads a summary of the deal

We asked for further clarification on that. Does this really mean no hybrid education for students or just no hybrid for teachers? Here’s what Kisha Borden, the president of SDEA wrote back to us:

“Section 16 of our Instructional agreement with SDUSD ensures that students who remain online next school year will have access to online only educators. The intent of this agreement is that there will not be any hybrid instruction next year as we know it’s not an ideal learning model, so that students in person are taught in person and students online can have access to online only education. This is really important to educators and to the parents we’ve talked to as well. It’s clear that people do not want a hybrid model next year,” she wrote.

79th District Candidates on Schools, Police and More

The field to replace political icon Shirley Weber in San Diego’s 79th District is crowded — and the candidates offer a wide range of takes on everything from schools to police and COVID-19 recovery

The 79th District is one of the most diverse in California, both racially and economically, writes Maya Srikrishnan. It covers southeastern San Diego, as well as National City, Lemon Grove and other municipalities. Five candidates, including one Republican, are running for Weber’s former seat. 

Weber made her reputation by taking bold and unwavering stances on both police and schools. She was a major proponent of school choice and pushed for stronger police accountability. Some of the candidates to replace her share those views, while others think it’s time for a new direction, particularly regarding school choice. 

Shane Parmely, for instance, has been a teacher in San Diego Unified for 20 years. She thinks the regulatory system that oversees charter schools is in bad need of reform and has opted her own children out of standardized tests. 

Weber’s daughter, Akilah Weber, on the other hand supports charter schools — as did her mother. She has, however, indicated that charters that aren’t performing well should be subject to accountability. 

Marco Contreras, the only Republican in the race, is also the only candidate to say definitively that schools should have already reopened for in-person learning. 

Candidates were split on whether they would accept money from police unions during their campaign. 

The primary will be held on April 6. Only two candidates will move forward to a general election on June 8. 

Oceanside Goes With an Internal Police Hire After All

After agreeing to open up the application process to external candidates, the role of top cop in Oceanside is going to a 26-year veteran of the department, and not everyone is pleased with the decision to hire internally.

In the North County Report, Kayla Jimenez writes that most of the police chiefs in San Diego got their start as officers in the same departments they now run. She spoke to a criminal justice professor who said cities don’t typically hire from the outside unless there’s been a scandal that harmed the department’s reputation.

But he also cautioned that there’s not a lot of difference between police chiefs nationally, because they’ve all come up in similar ways. “We don’t have a system to train innovative candidates,” he said. 

In Other News

  • U-T columnist Michael Smolens argues that an influx of migrants at the border is intruding on the new president’s victory lap. 
  • Parents in La Mesa rallied to reopen schools. Others rallied to keep them closed. (CBS 8) 
  • The county medical examiner has identified three of the victims in a deadly tunnel crash, NBC 7 reports. Lisa Halverstadt wrote earlier this week about how the violence could frame the mayor’s approach to homeless tent encampments. 
  • Four city councilmen also issued a joint memo with letters of support from labor groups Wednesday calling on officials to pursue FEMA money to put homeless San Diegans in hotels (or other sites). 
  • Several Balboa Park sites, including the San Diego Air & Space Museum, reopened Wednesday. The executive director of the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership spoke to 10News about the emotional and financial toll the pandemic took on employees. 

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

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