San Dieguito budget addresses students’ post-pandemic return to school

San Dieguito Union High School District administration offices.
San Dieguito Union High School District administration offices.

(File photo)

The San Dieguito Union High School District board approved its budget for the 2021-22 school year on June 17, representing a $13 million deficit.

According to SDUHSD Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Tina Douglas, this is the first year the district will be back in basic aid since 2013-14, meaning as a community-funded school district the bulk of their funding comes from property tax revenue. During tough economic times property taxes are at risk, so she has been conservative in budgeting for a 3% increase in property taxes.

On the revenue side, the budget includes about $26 million in one-time state and federal COVID-19 relief funding. The approved budget reflects a $10.7 million increase in expenditures from the board’s May 20 budget workshop due to classified salaries as approved through the Assembly Bill 86 Expanded Learning Opportunities Grant, an increase in employee retirement benefit costs, a special election and the purchase of 22 special education buses.

Douglas told the board at their budget workshop that there has been a need for new buses for quite some time. Of the 22 buses they are replacing, 10 of them are between 22 and 24 years old and 12 are 19-21 years old. The old buses are not equipped with seat belts, anti-lock braking or air conditioning.

The budget also includes $600,000 for athletic programs. In the past, the district relied heavily on the high school foundations to support athletic programs.

“Last year during the pandemic, the foundations weren’t able to fundraise and support us to the extent that they could and we needed to make sure that we were in a place that we could support the athletics program,” Douglas said.

The district developed funding for a base athletic program which will put less stress on the foundations to support sports and will also help address inequities in programs from site to site.

In COVID relief funding from AB86, the district is receiving $7.5 million to extend instructional learning time, help close learning gaps and provide student support.

That expanded academic support includes the district’s summer school, with five days a week in-person instruction starting this month. About 800 students have signed up, about 600 more than normally attend summer school.

As SDUHSD Deputy Superintendent Mark Miller said, coming out of the pandemic there is a lot of trauma and the district is planning for integrated social and emotional learning opportunities and creating a tiered support system to help students transition.

For 2021-22, they have increased counselors at middle schools and San Dieguito Academy High School (due to increased enrollment), brought in two additional full-time school psychologists and have added a bilingual student support specialist.

The district will also provide additional staff training, including a focus on creating welcoming school climates and classrooms, building resilience and trauma-informed practices to work with students who may be anxious about returning to school. Miller said each school site has its own plans to meet student needs with student connectedness time.

Rady Children’s Hospital will also host a parent presentation with practical tips on how to support a healthy transition back to full-time school.

San Dieguito’s projected deficit spending in 2021-22 would bring the district’s reserve level to 7.7%. Per the three-year outlook, district reserves could be down to 4.5% by 2023-24. Douglas said on average, community-funded districts have reserves of 15% and she recommended the board consider establishing a required reserve policy.