The Alameda County superintendent apologized last week after his office spent about $600,000 in COVID relief funds on stipends for his staff, mostly managers who took on extra duties during the pandemic.
Giving money to staff was allowed under federal and state grants, but has angered union leaders who say managers — not union members — got the bulk of the funds, and the process doesn’t was neither transparent nor legal under the Education Code.
Payments ranged from $200 to over $26,000, depending on the amount of overtime work performed by the employee. Duties included COVID testing, contact tracing, mask distribution and overseeing logistics related to the opening and closing of school campuses.
The incident comes about three weeks before Superintendent LK Monroe is re-elected on June 7 for a third term. She is running against Alysse Castro, who has been endorsed by the California School Employees Association, which represents about half of the 210 employees at the Alameda County Office of Education.
At least eight managers who received stipends donated money to Monroe’s re-election campaign, with amounts ranging from $100 to more than $2,500, according to campaign finance documents.
“Superintendent Monroe has acknowledged that the manner in which the stipends have been disbursed has caused significant conflict within the agency and with agency task forces. She takes full responsibility for that,” the door said. County office spokeswoman Michelle Smith McDonald, who was among the managers who received an allowance.
The statement from the Alameda County Office of Education says its “management strives to be responsive, transparent with requested documentation, and will work with our social partners to compensate all agency employees for their extraordinary commitment.” to our students and schools,” she said. “As leaders, we live our ACOE values and use our mistakes as an opportunity to grow and do better through the incredible agency we serve.”
The county school board reviewed the allowances on May 10 but did nothing. Under the state education code, county superintendents cannot award stipends greater than $10,000 without discussion with the board.
Superintendent Monroe did not receive an allowance.
The Alameda County Office of Education provides support to Alameda County’s 18 school districts, including budget oversight and professional development for teachers, and operates schools for students in juvenile detention or who are pregnant or parents.
The office received approximately $15 million in COVID relief funds from the Federal Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund and the California Department of Public Health during COVID.
Both grants allow schools and districts to spend the money on staff who work on COVID-related tasks, ranging from student learning loss to COVID testing, and many have done so. In fact, Governor Newsom and President Biden have both encouraged districts to spend money on staff.
Kindra Britt, director of communications and strategy for the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association, said COVID relief stipends are playing a crucial role in retaining staff and keeping schools operating during an extremely stressful time.
“We were in a time when staff were working seven days a week, handing out laptops or meals on weekends, performing COVID tests and contact tracing, and doing whatever was necessary to keep our students safe. “Britt said. “Our educators were grateful for the flexible funding and encouraged by Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to use the funds for short-term strategies or long-term investments. Basically whatever it took to keep schools open safely.”
Union members do not dispute the need for staff allowances. They just want the money to be distributed more fairly, said Veronica Olivares, CSEA local chapter president and database specialist for the county office school at Juvenile Hall. Union members have spent months on the frontlines of the pandemic and deserve stipends comparable to those managers have received, she said.
“It’s demoralizing. People wonder why one person got $3,000, for example, while others got nothing,” Olivares said. “The inequity is so evident.”
To remedy the situation, managers also offered about $400,000 in stipends to union members. This would bring the total award amount to over $1 million. The two parties have not yet agreed on the amount of the allowances, but negotiations are continuing.
“Everyone wants to move on, at this point,” Olivares said. “We just want to reach a deal that’s fair and leaves everyone feeling valued.”
The California Teachers Association, which also backed challenger Castro, released a statement this week with comments from some local teachers’ union leaders lambasting Monroe’s allocation decisions.
“It’s such a shame that this is what our leaders have decided to do with public education. As educators, we’re going to do what we’ve always done, which is fight back to win the schools that pupils deserve,” said Robbie, chairman of the Dublin Teachers Association. said Kreitz.
“Together, we are united in maintaining accountability in Alameda County,” added Castro Valley Teachers Association President Mark Mladinich. “Superintendent Monroe’s attitude to all of this is a failure on her part as a leader. The irony in all of this is that the funds have always been there to support our classrooms and our students, and instead , the funds are given to employees who have the slightest contact with our students.”
Editor’s Notes: Pleasanton Weekly editor Jeremy Walsh contributed local Tri-Valley reactions to the story. This article originally appeared in EdSource, a publication partner of Bay City News Service. You can read the story in its original presentation here.