money drain
Mesa Public Schools: No Records Exist for Over $32.3 Million ‘COVID’ Expenditures

March 27, 2022

By Corinne Murdock |

Mesa Public Schools (MPS) won’t explain where over $32.3 million of their federal emergency funds slated for COVID-related expenditures went. The lack of transparency calls into question the amount of funds funneled into undisclosed areas potentially unrelated to education while teachers struggle for increased salaries and school supply funding. 

AZ Free News inquired with MPS about their COVID-19 expenditures after readers requested we look into reports that teachers were asking parents to donate basic supplies like paper because they were running out — and apparently their district wouldn’t cover it. In its annual financial report submitted last October, MPS reported nearly $40 million remaining in their maintenance and operation funds

That led AZ Free News to look into MPS expenditures. The millions we inquired about came from their latest public Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) report. Specifically, we inquired about what was behind the repeated listings of “indirect costs,” “other,” and “etc” expenditures that MPS allocated millions of dollars toward. AZ Free News focused on these expenditures:

  • Page 8: the “other (includes indirect costs)” totaling over $16 million
  • Page 9: the “etc” expenditures under PPE totaling nearly $1.7 million
  • Page 9: the “other” and “indirect costs” together totaling over $554,000
  • Page 10: the “COVID relief positions” totaling over $122,000
  • Page 10: the “indirect costs” totaling nearly $4.3 million
  • Page 12: the “indirect costs” totaling over $9.6 million

With each public records request, MPS officials would refer us back to the public ESSER report. After several follow-ups, MPS General Counsel Kacey King informed AZ Free News that MPS could not fulfill the request further because explanation of those additional expenditures in full would require MPS to “create records.” Under Arizona law, government entities aren’t required to create records that they don’t have. 

In all, Arizona has received over $4 billion in ESSER funding. MPS received some of the largest bulk of that funding, coming in second for most ESSER funds received: around $229.2 million, coming in second only to Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

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