Flawed applications cost other San Diego County school districts homeless funding
The outside of the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District office is shown on June 14, 2018. (Megan Wood/inewsource)

Flawed applications cost other San Diego County school districts homeless funding

San Diego Unified wasn’t the only San Diego County school district this year to lose out on thousands of dollars in funding to help homeless students because of a flawed grant application.

California school districts are eligible to apply for up to $250,000 in federal funding annually to help homeless students succeed. Whether districts get the money depends on how well their grant writers do in explaining the need for the funding.

Records inewsource obtained from the California Department of Education show two elementary school districts — South Bay Union and La Mesa-Spring Valley — also submitted incomplete applications. In all, 15 districts and county education offices in the state had their applications disqualified because of missing signatures, copies or documents.

South Bay Union failed to submit a complete fact sheet, which would have detailed information such as the number of schools in the district, its homeless student population and the amount of funding requested. La Mesa-Spring Valley, in a consortium with the Santee School District, did not provide two copies of the original application as required by the state.

inewsource reported last month that the Education Department disqualified San Diego Unified’s request for up to $750,000 over three years because the application was missing a signature from a finance official.

Bruce Crenshaw from La Mesa-Spring Valley called the state’s decision “harsh” for disqualifying the district’s application just because he failed to submit two extra copies. Even so, he took the blame, calling himself a “bonehead.”

“My frustration is that I think we wrote a better grant this time than last, and we got it last time, so I was feeling pretty confident,” said Crenshaw, a counselor and homeless student liaison. “I got so focused on all the things that were on the bottom of the list, making sure they were all included, that I didn’t look at the first thing that said include two extra copies.”

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From 2015 to 2018, La Mesa-Spring Valley and Santee were together awarded about $227,000 from the federal Education for Homeless Children and Youth grant.

Pamela Reichert-Montiel, director of student support and accountability at South Bay Union, said the missing fact sheet that disqualified her district was caused by the grant writer thinking the information was provided elsewhere on the application.

Districts can spend the federal grant funds on staff salaries and various support services for homeless students. Last year, San Diego Unified had the third largest homeless student population in the state, behind the Los Angeles and Long Beach unified school districts.

The La Mesa-Spring Valley and Santee districts combined served more than 800 homeless students last year, and South Bay Union had about 1,300.

Nonprofits and others that rely on grant funding know filling out applications correctly is important.

Walter Philips, CEO of the nonprofit San Diego Youth Services, said getting an application denied “right off the bat,” as the state Education Department did, doesn’t happen all of the time. He said some funders are flexible, opting to take points off of an application for errors, while others can be “sticklers.”

“Dot the i’s, cross the t’s. If you miss something, then you’re automatically disqualified. It just really depends on the funder, and oftentimes it’s the way I think that they kind of make their first cut. Did you follow the instructions or not?” said Philips, whose nonprofit helps homeless, runaway, abused and at-risk youth.

Of the 128 applications the Education Department received this year for the federal homeless student grant, 73 were accepted for funding. In San Diego County, the county Education Office and the San Ysidro, Escondido Union and Poway Unified school districts had their applications approved for funding.

Related:


Rep. Peters makes plea to get funding for San Diego Unified’s homeless students
May 18, 2018
Congressman Scott Peters asked the state schools superintendent to consider giving funding to the San Diego Unified School District for homeless students even though its grant application was missing a signature.

San Diego Unified official takes blame over lost funding for homeless students
May 11, 2018
An official has taken the blame for San Diego Unified's lost funding to help its homeless students.

Missing signature costs San Diego Unified funding for homeless students
May 11, 2018
A missing signature on a grant application means San Diego Unified has lost its chance to receive $750,000 in federal funding to help homeless students.
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About Megan Wood:

Megan Wood
Megan Wood is a multimedia journalist for inewsource. To contact her with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email meganwood@inewsource.org.