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Trustees respond to school district budget cuts 

Trustees respond to school district budget cuts

An open letter from the School Board Trustees on Mar. 6. 2013

The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District has faced some serious challenges over the past two years. The Board of Trustees had to take serious steps to regain our financial footing with the County Board of Education and the State of California. Together, with our teachers, staff, students, and parents, the district made deep sacrifices to advance us from a Negative Certification in December 2011 to a Qualified Certification in January 2013.

 90% of our operating budget going to pay for wages and benefits

With over 90% of our operating budget going to pay for wages and benefits, the decisions that needed to be made were tough decisions. We have worked, and continue to work, on resolving three main issues. The three issues are an inadequate reserve for economic uncertainties, a structural deficit caused by years of over-spending, and a significant cash flow problem created by the State’s ongoing deferral of paying the money they owe the district. In the fall of 2011, it was determined that we needed to reduce our expenditures by at least 6% per year to stave off a state take-over.

Screen Shot 2013-03-11 at 11.16.56 AMTogether, we corrected our financial course largely by taking furlough days. Following a similar model implemented three years ago by the California state employees, and also by many of our local cities, the two employee unions (Certificated and Classified) agreed to furlough days. The district closed for six days in the spring of 2012 and for twelve days over the 2012-13 school year. We understand the hardship this created with all of our employees, students and parents. Schools closed and, as a result, staff wasn’t paid or required to work those days, although many did. Students missed class and staff lost salary, effectively taking a 6.48% or more pay cut.  Although this was a drastic step, it was necessary. The alternative choice of continued spending would have effectively paved the road for the state to take over the district within a few months. We thank everybody for their deep sacrifice and know we could not have done this without the collective effort of the entire community to make it work.

Our goal is to keep this district solvent, not only for this school year, but for the future.  We do not want to go back to the previous financial ways and have to endure this dire situation again. To achieve financial stability and obtain a Positive Certification, we still need to keep a rein on spending and not deficit spend. In our latest round of negotiations with the teacher’s union, they have demanded that all furlough days be removed and full pay be reinstated. This would be not only impossible, but reckless.

After a recent series of four town-hall style meetings with teachers, staff, and the community, there was one common theme: Students need to be back in school. The Board took this to heart and came back to the bargaining table. The Board authorized restoring instructional days to the full 180 student instructional days. In addition, two teacher preparation days were added to the existing one day to provide a total of three non-student days for teachers.

The Board proposed a 4.86% reduction to the teacher salary schedule.

In order to make up the financial shortfall the restoration of furlough days would cause and maintain adequate reserves for the required three year period, the Board proposed a 4.86% reduction to the teacher salary schedule.

Yes, we know that this isn’t great news, but it eliminates the furlough days that the community and teachers told us were so detrimental and brings the instructional days back up to 180 days. Additionally, in the event that we receive the additional $4.5 million dollars that the teacher’s union executive director has stated will be directed to Paso Robles schools, the Board has offered to re-open salary negotiations. Unfortunately, the state has proven that we can’t trust their budget figures until we actually receive the funding. At this date, no school district in the state knows how much funding they will receive as no budget has been approved by the legislature. To compound the uncertainty, the Governor has proposed a completely new type of funding formula for the public schools and no one knows exactly how that would work and what the effect would be.

We’ve been met with comments that we are “insulting” the teachers with a “slap in the face” and “how do you sleep at night”. The truth is, we don’t sleep well. Why?  Because these are tough decisions. Our kids go to school in the district and our relatives, friends, and neighbors work in the district. We know that in this recession that everyone is suffering, not just school employees. We also know that a strong school district is vital for the future of any community, especially Paso Robles.

Both teachers and classified have responded to our year of progress and our proposals by voting to give our Superintendent, Dr. Kathleen McNamara, votes of no-confidence. To blame the budget and program cuts the district has been forced to make on any one individual is intellectually dishonest. The real blame and focus for the budget cuts should be on the tens of millions of dollars of state funding reductions that our district has suffered the past five years.

We ask that you read the facts, attend school board meetings and learn more about the wonderful things going on in this district. We educate over 6,600 students every year and there are thousands of success stories waiting to be told. Let’s focus on the positive progress we’ve made. Progress should unite us. Let’s have calm and considered discussion, not rhetoric and grand-standing. Let’s work in a collaborative manner to move us into Positive Certification. We thank our teachers, staff and the community for its support. Our paramount goal – our mission – is to provide an exemplary education to all of our students.

Respectfully,

The Trustees of the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District,

  • President Katy Griffin
  • Board Member Chris Bausch, Clerk
  • Board Member Jay Packer
  • Board Member Field Gibson
  • Board Member Dave Lambert
  • Board Member Joan Summers
  • Board Member Joel Peterson


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About the author: Publisher Scott Brennan

Scott Brennan is the publisher of this newspaper and founder of Access Publishing. Follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or follow his blog.