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The Stockton Unified School District has been allocated more COVID-19 relief funding than any other San Joaquin County school district.
According to data from both the California Department of Education and San Joaquin County Office of Education, Stockton Unified is eligible for around $320 million of federal and state funds that have been set aside to support school districts since the pandemic began. That’s nearly $80 million more than Lodi Unified, the school district with the second-highest total.
Community members voiced concerns earlier this month at an SUSD town hall, among other myriad issues, that the district wasn’t putting the hundreds of millions dollars of COVID-19 relief funding it had been awarded to good use for students, faculty and staff.
“This community should demand a full accounting of exactly where that money has gone, or where it hasn't gone,” Jane Butterfield, a former Stagg High School student, said during the meeting. “Where is it going? And can we trust you to be spending it in the right manner?”
The district held the town hall so the public could voice concerns regarding a scathing San Joaquin County Civil Grand Jury report — the second in two years — released in June that found the district suffers from poor business practices, a lack of transparency and financial mismanagement.
The Grand Jury cited “the historic influx of one-time money, totaling more than $250 million, being used for long-term spending commitments” as one of the reasons the district was being investigated. That number was cited several times by community members during the district’s town hall.
Most federal and state COVID-19 relief funding have come with spending stipulations, including deadlines dictating how long districts have to spend the money they’ve been awarded in addition to what the funds can actually be spent on.
Stockton Unified has been allocated more than $241 million in what's known as ESSER funding — the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund — which distributed federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act money to schools. The Grand Jury described ESSER allocations to the district in its report as not being utilized effectively.
ESSER funds were awarded in several cycles and, depending on which round the money was allocated from, can be spent on such things as mental health support, addressing learning loss, planning for long-term closures or reopening, and improving air quality in school buildings.
The district has also been awarded additional state and federal funding, such as through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA Act), American Rescue Plan Act (ARP Act) and various state Assembly and Senate bills, among others, bringing its total award up to just over $320 million.
However, just because a district, county or individual school has been awarded funds, doesn’t mean the money has been distributed.
The California Department of Education generally releases only a portion of the allocated amount and will only release more once a district’s cash balance for a given funding program falls below a certain threshold, according to the San Joaquin County Office of Education Business Services.
“Districts report the cash balances periodically and (the state) uses that information to determine how much to release,” SJCOE officials said in an email. “Put differently, it’s not a reimbursement-based allocation, but (the state) does not send more cash until the district spends some of what it has received and reports to (the Department of Education).
According to state data, Stockton Unified appears to have not received at least $185 million of what the district has been awarded.
Stockton Unified was contacted in the reporting of this story but did not provide any requested information by time of publication.