Several large school districts in California, including the San Diego Unified School District, sent a joint letter to state legislators saying proposed budget cuts will delay the reopening of schools, and thereby, the reopening of the economy.
Trustee Richard Barrera said the district “will have a model that works for parents who need to get back to work and students who need to get back to schools that are safe and healthy. The challenge is, that costs money.”
In a revised May budget, Governor Gavin Newsom cut 10 percent of the budget for education. To open schools responsibly, Barrera said schools need 20 to 30 percent more on top of the ten percent cut.
In the joint letter to the state legislature, the largest districts wrote, “We can not in good conscience risk the health and safety of our students and staff by returning to the classroom prematurely and without funding for the necessary precautions."
San Diego Unified is hoping to discuss its plan to reopen in June.
Barrera said that with guidance from public health officials, schools would reopen on September 1, two weeks earlier for the most vulnerable students like those with special needs.
To ensure there are fewer students in a classroom, class times or days would not be staggered. Rather, Barrera said, students would be at school all at the same time, but planned renovations would make more space for students to spread out across the entire campus, in the auditorium, parking lot, playground.
“Our plan is premised on the idea kids can be at school for a full day that parents need in order to go to work. We really prefer not to do this kind of staggering. It just doesn’t help parents," he told NBC 7.
That will take more teachers and more staff to supervise students.
Nurses would also be needed to administer tests to make sure no one has the coronavirus, and to monitor the overall health of those on campus. Counselors would be needed to help students deal with the stress of the pandemic.
And distance learning would continue for those parents and teachers who do not feel comfortable going back to school.
"It's a lot of work," Barrera said. "But it's work we know how to do, and we’re ready to do.”
That is, if there is money.
"The investment has to be in schools now so that our kids get what they need, our parents get what they need, and that's our quickest path to getting our economy back on track," he said.
The joint letter from the districts was to state legislators, but Barrera said the focus is also on states working together to get the federal government to step up and fill the financial gap.
"It’s the worst possible type of decision-making by the federal government to have schools bear the brunt of this crisis."