Paso schools face budget woes, teacher strike
February 5, 2012
By DANIEL BLACKBURN
An unexplained $1.59 million deficit in Paso Robles School District’s (PRSD) current budget has the district teetering on the brink of insolvency and under threat of a state takeover while local officials target teachers’ pay as a possible solution.
In response, teachers are now threatening to strike, and plan a rally Tuesday at the board’s 6 p.m. meeting at district headquarters, 800 Niblick Road, Paso Robles.
District officials have blamed the shortfall in its $54 million spending plan on a bookkeeping error made by a retired employee, and have posed fixes for the problem which include an immediate three percent salary hit, and similar, subsequent annual cuts.
Several sources told CalCoastNews that the “missing” money appeared to have been taken from a fund for employee insurance, provided by Self Insured Schools of California (SISC), and then used for other general purposes, but never repaid. SISC is a joint powers agreement administered by the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office, and participated in by districts from throughout the state.
County School Superintendent Julian Crocker, whose office exercises oversight of individual districts in the county, said he “appointed a fiscal advisor to work with the district” in December and has offered additional staff assistance to the district.
Crocker said “the law prescribes county superintendents lots of ways to act” in these kinds of crisis situations, and acknowledged he has “serious concerns” regarding PRSD’s recent “negative declaration” of its fiscal standing — meaning that officials are uncertain about their ability to pay ongoing bills for the rest of the budget year.
Ironically, Crocker now oversees problems in the district he once headed.
Teachers union president Jim Lynett told the PRSC board of trustees in an “open letter” in January that a cut in wages for teachers was not acceptable to his membership.
“We are prepared to sit down and negotiate a solution for next year utilizing the many cost savings ideas presented to the board by the community,” he said. Lynett said that when his members offered their compromise recently, “We were dismissed like children.”
Robert Skinner, a history teacher and officer in the teachers’ association, said that a compromise with the district “would require cooperation, and (of that) I’m not too hopeful. After all, the school board is relying on the judgment of the same administrators who got them into this mess in the first place.” Skinner said teachers may be left with only two options: accept the cut in pay, or strike.
Lynett also suggested that the district’s current budget fix may cause school classes to end as early as April.
The county education office “tried to warn the district about this game-changing screw up,” said Lynett, but those warnings went unheeded.
Dr. Kathy McNamara, superintendent of the Paso Robles district, did not returns calls Friday from a reporter. But in an email to the teachers’ union, McNamara wrote, “The SLOCOE (county’s) fiscal adviser would not approve (the union) proposal as it did not address the mandates set forth by the county superintendent to restore our fund balance, and eliminate deficit spending.”
If the Paso Robles district was to be placed under state receivership, the current superintendent would be fired, the board would become advisory only, and state loans would be made to cover deficits. Such receivership would last a minimum of three years.