Too Expensive to Re-Open Schools? Some Superintendents Say It Is
Kathy Granger has a difficult puzzle to solve. As superintendent of the Mountain Empire Unified School District in southeastern San Diego County, she’s forging ahead with plans to re-open school buildings this fall, with a staggering and expensive mix of new health and safety precautions because of COVID-19.
With a 660-square mile district of rugged mountain terrain that borders Baja California, Granger already spends $1.5 million a year—7 percent of her annual budget—to bus 3,200 students to eight schools. But to make sure kids can be spaced out enough on buses this fall—meaning no more than 20 per bus—Granger figures she needs to quadruple the district’s 14 bus routes a day to 56.
Sticker price: $4.5 million.
That ballooning transportation cost would come just as state officials, including Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, say public schools need to hack as much as 10 percent from their current budgets. Then there’s a whole other list of new—and rising—costs to cover: $40,000 already to buy Plexiglas for the district’s front office, free-standing hand sanitizer machines, and handwashing stations in campus outdoor areas where students eat lunch.