Internal memos show Calif. teachers contemplating using COVID funds for staff bonuses, trips to Hawaii

An activist group pushing to get schools reopened in California has obtained internal memos indicating several districts contemplated using state and federal COVID-19 relief money to fund bonuses and, in one case, a Hawaiian trip.

In one instance, memos which were shared online by “Reopen California Schools,” a Facebook group founded early on during the pandemic by Jonathan Zachreson, show that the Clovis Unified School District in Fresno County discussed using COVID funds for a “one-time payment to employees…given the extraordinary effort required of every employee over the course of the pandemic.”

“The $6K proposed teacher and staff bonus to be voted by the board this Wed. It was shared with us by someone part of the negotiations. This person is outraged they are offering $6k in bonuses, money which is supposed to go towards programs for students,” the group noted in a tweet.

“This community has had an influx of teens arriving at the ER with self injury. Grades have dropped substantially and many students disengaged. Poor hybrid schedules started just a few weeks ago and before aid bills passed,” another tweet noted. “This aid money seriously needs to be spent on the kids.”

Officials with the school district told Fox News that no decision has yet been made regarding bonuses.

“We have a committee of people who are meeting to brainstorm lots of needs and priorities for use of newly approved federal and state funds, but no decisions have been made, especially not one to give employees $6,000 dollars each,” the official said.

In another instance, memos show that officials with the Dublin Unified School District, which is located in the Bay Area, proposed paying teachers a one-time $2,500 bonus using state and federal aid money that would go towards “an airplane trip to Hawaii” after the pandemic ends, among other things. 

The San Juan Unified School District, meanwhile, proposed giving teachers a one-time bonus payment amounting to 1 percent of their 2020-2021 salary, along with a $500 stipend.

“This means food service and special ed aides who have been in-person since Sept get ~$300, teachers who haven’t stepped foot on campus get ~$1,000, and the superintendent ~$3,000,” Reopen California Schools tweeted along with a screengrab of the memo.

Discussion of bonuses comes as Gov. Gavin Newsom said that some 9,000 of the state’s 11,000 or so schools are now open or have a “firm date” to reopen, while not providing details about what is considered to be a “reopened” school.

Newson, who faces a recall effort over criticisms surrounding his handling of the pandemic, noted further that billions of state and federal dollars approved in recent weeks will assist local districts in providing for summer school programs and other tools to supplement learning after nearly a year’s worth of closures.

Earlier this month, the United Teachers Los Angeles posted a message to a private Facebook group warning members not to post vacation photos online because doing so could undermine the union’s narrative that schools remain closed due to COVID.

“If you are planning any trips for Spring Break, please keep that off Social Media. It is hard to argue that it is unsafe for in-person instruction, if parents and the public see vacation photos and international travel,” the post said.

And in January, Chicago Teachers Union executive board member and local area vice president Sarah Chambers was criticized after she posted photos to social media during a late-December vacation to San Juan, Puerto Rico, as she pushed to keep the city’s schools closed due to the pandemic.

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Jon Dougherty

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