Grand Jury exposes failures at Paso Robles school district

November 20, 2020

Chris Williams

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

The San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury details the failures of the former superintendent and other officials at the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District that led to the district’s financial crisis in a recently released report.

Between 2014 and 2018, the Paso Robles school district’s reserves declined from about 10 percent of the budget, or more than $6 million, to approximately .4 percent of the budget, or slightly more than $300,000. Subsequently, top Paso Robles school officials resigned and the district was placed under county financial control for the second time in less than seven years.

In Dec. 2018, then-Superintendent Chris Williams resigned and agreed to a settlement in which he would receive $226,000 in severance pay. Amid public outcry, the county superintendent of education helped negotiate a new agreement with Williams receiving $113,000 in severance pay.

The SLO County Grand Jury found accounting errors, non-budgeted expenditures by Williams and a lack of proper oversight by the school board led to the depletion of the district’s reserves. The grand jury also cited salary and pension increases and turnover in key positions as factors.

Particularly, there was significant turnover among chief business officers and financial managers. Twice, Williams was the acting chief business officer, which “left a serious gap in accountability with no systems for checks and balances,” according to the report.

Additionally, the Grand Jury discovered there is no clear plan or path forward for the construction of the district’s planned aquatics complex. Yet, the district has already spent $1.5 million of Measure M funds on the project, including the poorly-timed purchase of modular stainless steel components for the vinyl-lined pools, which have been lying in storage for more than two years.

Measure M was a $95 million bond measure intended to fund classroom and facility construction and upgrades.


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Michael A.

Proving once again, Californian’s aren’t citizens, they’re hostages.


gauche123

Last time I checked the school district is supposed to have a CPA conduct an audit on a regular basis…when you look at Paso school districts auditor, it’s been the same one over and over from southern CA. You’d think the auditors would have caught some of this garbage. If I was the new district, id fire that CPA and ask for all the support on what they actually found then sue them for incompetence since I’m pretty sure they gave the district an Unmodified opinion every year.


The other challenge with districts is the ballooning pensions they’ve offered to employees for years thanks to the all powerful unions embedded within the school system. No one dares to take on the unions out of fear of being fired as the “at will” employees have to have the support of the boards to even try to take them on which never happens.


Schools don’t have a budget problem, they have a spending problem. I know everyone thinks teachers don’t make enough money for the work they do but when you consider they work for 9mo out of the year they are making pretty good money compared to many. Since the pandemic began most of them don’t do diddly squat and still get a full pay check…just try and sit through one of the HS or elementary school classes with your kid and you’ll know exactly what I mean.


Paso school district is a dumpster fire. Hopefully the new board can fix some of the issues but last time I checked the district is full of nepotism, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.


sbjcl

This guy mismanages $5.7 million, then walks away with $113K whats wrong with this picture?


roadzombie805

Opens a brewery in downtown Paso with the money…..


kayaknut

Once again be completely incompetent, run an public agency/entity into the ground and possibly illegally, and walk away with a golden parachute, this time $113,000, not to mention his pension waiting for him. And yet we are told time and time again we have to pay these ridiculous salaries to get the best possible people, really? This is their idea of best?


northcountyresident

Good report, Josh


womanwhohasbeenthere

No surprise here. School districts are among the worst-run local agencies anywhere. The constituent base of parents is never interested until something personally happens to them, and once their kids are gone from school, so is their interest in the school district.


Most people run for school boards because they have an interest in promoting good public education, but they end up responsible for all sorts of important administrative decisions that have nothing directly to do with education and which, for many, are well beyond their abilities to assess and comprehend. Staff controls everything. Basically there is no accountability anywhere.


The grand jury issued a report earlier this year that the Mello-Roos fees required of every new home to build new schools to accommodate the expected increase in students, had been wantonly squandered by school districts throughout the county. No doubt Paso Robles was one of these.


Do not, do not, ever ever EVER vote for a school bond.


cooperdog

Agreed. Giving money the the schools is like shoveling fleas across the barnyard; only half of it gets to where it was intended.


Adam Trask

I would agree with your final assessment, if California would roll back the corporate protections of Prop. 13. Unfortunately, in the recent election homeowners were scared by the likes of Tom Bordonaro into rejecting an increase in property taxes which would be paid by corporations, hedge funds and other wealthy interests. I wonder why we continue to allow the wealthiest among us to get away with windfall profits while we short change working wages (ever tried to survive on $12 an hour?) and schools?


Last Individual

Corporations do not pay taxes. People pay taxes.


Had the recent proposition 15 passed and removed proposition 13 protection from commercial property, virtually every business in California would have those taxes passed through from the property owners. It’s called a triple net lease, and nearly all commercial leases are written that way. (If you don’t know what this is, Mr. Trask, look it up. I can’t explain it to you here.)


Said businesses rental costs would have soared. These costs would have been passed through to PEOPLE. Since our regressive sales tax is based upon the costs, it too would have gone up greatly, and sales taxes are paid disproportionately by the poor. (I can’t explain that to you here either.)


I will repeat, Corporations do not pay taxes. People pay taxes.


womanwhohasbeenthere

School districts in California receive the same amount of money per child (Average Daily Attendance) per a state supreme court ruling over 40 years ago to eliminate the inequity of wealthier districts getting more money (and by implication) better schools. Schools also get additional money per student in the form of aid grants based on the number of non-English speaking students, those getting free breakfasts and lunches, poorer test scores, and other measures of social inequality. There isn’t a lack of money here. Schools are not getting short-changed by a long shot.

Finally, some people are more successful financially than others in life. Get over it.


Adam Trask

If we adequately funded our public schools, this would not be an issue. For far too long we have relied on property taxes to educate our children. In wealthy areas, it’s not a problem, but, where communities are predominantly working class, schools have fallen behind.


jdchem

This article is about financial mismanagement and your conclusion is that they don’t have enough money to mismanage? LOL.


Adam Trask

Yes, that is precisely what I’m saying. Public schools in this state have been underfunded for 41 years. In the 1950’s through the late 70’s, the state’s public schools ranked Number One in per pupil spending across the nation. Today, we are 35th, up from 47th—when Republicans ruled the state. These administrators are under intense pressure to give our children the best possible educational experience they can have. Are these guys without guilt, absolutely not, but in a society that actually valued education, this would not be an issue.


kayaknut

Not underfunded but over funded at the administration level.


kevin rise

Agreed Adam


Paso_citizen

Mr. Trask, I humbly submit you know not of what you talk about (and judging by the large number of negative votes your comments have gotten, others think the same).

The schools are not underfunded – they are totally mismanaged. The largest portion of our property tax goes to schools (millions of $), schools get the largest share of money spent on lottery tickets, schools have managed to get multiple bonds passed, Mello-Roos fees goes to schools, and on and on.

I have no children in any school; but yet I get levied almost $400 a year in additional property tax. I wouldn’t have as big an issue with this, if I was shown verifiable facts that this is money well spent. No such facts exist.

The mis-management of the Paso School district is just one example of how school administrators get away with this and then are either given a huge severance package or they go to some other school district at a higher salary and do the same thing.

Millions and millions of tax-payer monies have been and will continue to be spent on stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with education. Schools have gotten away from real education (when did basic civics education get eliminated , and other examples). For what? – more extra-curricular stuff such as swimming, under-water basket weaving, etc. etc. So yes, I am mad about the wasteful spending of my tax money..

You can not keep throwing more money at a problem and expect different results. A complete and total overhaul is needed in how our schools are funded and what is meant by education.

You speak so fondly of how the spending per pupil improved when your party ruled the state. But maybe you should also look at spending per pupil in other countries and ask yourself why are students in this county do not rank very well against students almost any other country. It is not related to how much money is spent – it is how well that money is spent.


Adam Trask

“But maybe you should also look at spending per pupil in other countries and ask yourself why are students in this county do not rank very well against students almost any other country.”


English spoken here?


And, by the way, “basic civics education” is a requirement for graduation from high school in California public schools. Look it up.


Gordo

Maybe the children would be better served with a mandatory home economics class that taught how to plan and live within a budget, how credit card interest works, how car loans and mortgages work and how to invest for retirement.


Gordo

You’re right. If we had thrown a few hundred million more towards Paso schools we could have hired a superintendent who understood how to manage a checkbook.

One thing that should be looked at is the duties of a school superintendent. It seems their duties are more financial management than educational and if this is true shouldn’t we be hiring people with a PhD in accounting, finance or economics instead of education?


jimmy_me

While I agree with everything Adam Trask has to say, the situation is different now than it was 50 years ago. If you give a school $1000 today, they’ll spend $950 giving hiring administrators and giving administrator raises, which of course includes hiring people to “find more money”. Academic administrators are inherently corrupt; the only way to keep them under control is to withhold money, which of course hurts students. Education has become a huge scam; it’s a giant business and has little to do with actually educating people.