Mesa Public Schools (MPS) ignored additional requests from our reporters to obtain data on how $32.3 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds were spent. In March, MPS toldAZ Free News that no records existed detailing how exactly those funds were spent.
Over a month ago, AZ Free News inquired about records for the chart of accounts related to Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding. There were three separate COVID-19 federal relief grants administered: ESSER I, coded under 326; ESSER II, coded under 336; and ESSER III, coded under 346.
We requested those records because the public ESSER report given by MPS in December didn’t offer an in-depth explanation. MPS attributed those tens of millions spent to a variety of ambiguous explanations: “other,” “etc,” “indirect costs,” and “COVID relief positions.”
When we asked for further information about the $32.3 million, MPS told us they couldn’t offer further explanation of those expenditures because they weren’t required by law to create records.
Of the over $4 billion Arizona received in ESSER funding, MPS received the second-largest allotment: around $229.2 million. Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) received the most in the state.
Last October, MPS reported that they had nearly $40 million remaining in their maintenance and operation funds.
For years now, we’ve heard the same old talking points from the left when it comes to our state’s schools. It always goes a little something like this:
Education is underfunded in Arizona…
Teachers aren’t paid enough…
We need to raise taxes to pay our teachers more…
Do these lines sound familiar? They should. Anytime a new proposition is rolled out to voters, teachers’ unions and other liberals push this same narrative. We heard it when they campaigned for Prop 208 a couple years ago. And despite the fact that the Arizona Supreme Court struck down Prop 208 because Arizona is already funding schools at historic levels, we continue to hear it from Red4Ed and others as they target the state’s $1.8 billion tax cuts.
That’s what makes the latest news out of Mesa Public Schools (MPS) even more outrageous.
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).