Letter: School board member Chris Bausch responds to candidates call for fiscal responsibility
Dear Candidates Cogan and Williams,
–Thanks for advocating for PRJUSD’s fiscal responsibility. I agree that candidate statements such as “live within our means” are politically correct yet meaningless and fail to indicate how a candidate will address the current cash crunch. I agree that raising taxes such as Measure M are an inappropriate way to raise funds needed for operational expenses and that increasing revenue is a better way to preserve vocational education or, as it is called today, CTE, VAPA and foreign language which are actually required A-G courses. Competing for students and using surplus district property to construct affordable housing are good points.
So, if I agree, why am I writing? I do so to provide a bit of a reality check.
1. Declining enrollment is not just due to program cuts. Due to a variety of forces, marrying later, increased college debt, delayed homeownership, high cost of housing, all of California is facing de facto declining enrollment of school-age children including Paso Robles. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated declining enrollment. New homes will not change this fact. A combination of safe-harbor ADA/Average Daily Attendance protection, mandated 3-percent budget reserves, and California schools budget policies are designed to give school districts two to three years to project and make the cuts and adjustments necessary to avoid deficit spending. When Sacramento announces budget cuts or deferrals and when these safeguards have been abused, distorted, or are just plain missing, superior programs have to wait. Unfortunately, more drastic budget cuts such as potential school consolidation are still needed but don’t take my word for it. Download Tuesday’s budget update here.
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2. Yes, increasing revenue streams is far superior to cutting programs. That is why after learning about a then-new program, Teacher-Staff Housing General Obligation Bonds, that was already being used to build homes to attract and retain school employees such as teachers and custodians but also for safety personnel such as police, fire, and sheriffs, I asked the previous superintendent to agendize building workforce housing on one of the district’s underutilized property. He declined. When I shared the concept with new superintendent Dr. Dubost, he immediately arranged a meeting with financial advisor Mark Farrell of Dale Scott & Co, CBO Brad Pawlowski and representatives from the City of Paso, Paso PD, and the sheriff’s office. This meeting took place at the Paso School’s District Office about one year ago on October 9th, 2019. Mr. Farrell’s analysis was that yes, while a new bond would be possible to pay for workforce housing built on land the district already owned, since the district was already short on funds at that time, to prevent increasing property taxes, any revenue generated by workforce housing would have to go primarily to service the bond debt. He agreed that workforce housing is a great staff recruiting and retention tool, but advised not to count on it to generate any meaningful income. This concept deserves further study and awaits the recommendations of the District’s now convened 7-11 Committee. To learn more about housing, please visit https://dalescott.com/teacher-staff-housing/ To learn more about the district’s 7-11 Committee including possible school consolidation, using or selling surplus property, visit https://www.pasoschools.org/Page/1876
3. No one advocates cutting programs but when promising to deliver new programs, candidates should consider if their projections are in line with other financial concerns such as unfunded pension liabilities, step and column salary increases, the natural increased cost of goods and services especially the encroachment of Special Education on the General Fund. Until legislators in Sacramento and Washington D.C. provide adequate funds to cover these and many more ever-increasing costs, new and better programs become difficult to approve without first cutting spending somewhere else. You have advocated not cutting the non-existent fat. So, I ask you both, if you are elected, what cuts are you prepared to offer in order to fund the programs you believe will eventually increase ADA?
4. Projects supported by Measure M-16 are not currently underfunded. Under the scrutiny of CBO Brad Pawlowski, they don’t appear to be in danger of becoming underfunded. Measure M funds and the projects they support are completely separate from the General Fund. I’ll admit it is confusing especially when the previous superintendent and board decided to budget only $5.7 million for the Measure M Aquatics Complex funds when the true cost was estimated to be over $10 million. What is even more confusing to me is how any funds from a $95 million Bond passed specifically for Elementary and Middle Schools can be used for a high school pool. Also, by design and by law, Measure M funds can only be used for construction projects and cannot be used for salaries, benefits or programs. While there are GO/General Obligation bonds that could be sold for expenses and the programs you describe, I firmly believe that Paso voters would simply reject any new bonds or tax increases during a pandemic. For now, the district will have to rely on TRAN’s/ (Short Term) Temporary Revenue Anticipation Notes to pay for previously budgeted goods and services.
So, besides General Obligation Bonds, are there other ways to increase revenue? Yes, grants, especially on-going, renewable grants. The district already employs an amazing and highly effective grant writer who knows how to apply for grants tailor-made to district needs. How else can the district increase ADA? By augmenting the District’s highly effective VAPA, Dual Immersion and Dual Enrollment programs, Independent Studies and Home Schools comes to mind. For example, by attracting students from outside the district boundaries, the Dual Immersion program at Georgia Brown significantly increases ADA and routinely runs at capacity year after year. If a second Dual Immersion program could be started, one grade level per year beginning with Kindergarten, it would cost very little to ramp up but would eventually attract new students from other districts. If the district can continue to enhance our Art Academy at Bauer Speck, eventually more students from outside the district would increase ADA. Future goals might include STEM, STEAM, and International Baccalaureate programs but only to be considered when revenue and expenses are back in balance.
5. Program enhancements for the jobs of tomorrow to increase enrollment and revenue. Maybe you haven’t seen the growing list of highly competitive, A-G compliant, many of which are Dual Enrollment (i.e. with Cuesta College) eligible? I would wager that this impressive list developed over the past three years by our second to none teachers and administration is superior to any CTE/Career Technical Education programs available on the Central Coast. You might want to check out the 2020-2021 PRHS Course Registration Guide.
I hope you and the other candidates for Paso School Board take my observations to heart. If you are elected, your learning curve will be, as mine is every year, straight up. My notes included here will give you a head start in keeping our children’s education and the welfare of our teachers, staff, and administration at the top of your priority list.
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