Paso Robles teachers and classified staff are once again bracing themselves as the district, facing a $2.2 million shortfall, prepares for its third round of pink slips in three years.
“It’s stressful on everybody,” said Kathryn Nay, president of the classified employees union, who has seen a once-stable profession become one involved in annual layoff talks. “I’ve never experienced anything like this.”
Meanwhile, school administrators are engaging in strategic planning meetings to determine how to best trim the budget that has already been reduced 18 percent in two years.
“We’re not in favor of slashing everything,” said Elizabeth Wilson, the district’s assistant superintendent in charge of business.
At the same time, less money coming in — the result of continued state budget woes — has forced Paso Robles Public Schools to renew talks of layoffs, furloughs and other reductions.
Administrators and school board members will discuss some reduction options during tonight’s board meeting.
While the $2.2 million shortfall is less than the $8 million the district was talking about having to cut this time last year, many jobs, services and programs were spared then by $1.3 million in federal funds that won’t likely return.
“The federal government has stepped up in the last two years,” Wilson said. “There’s no indication that is ever going to happen again.”
The district also stands to lose $2.1 million it has received from a temporary state tax set to expire in June. With that in mind, the board last week adopted a resolution calling for the state to maintain the taxes, which include a 1 percent additional sales tax and a 0.5 percent hike on vehicle license fees.
In a time of economic turmoil, asking people to pay more taxes is not a popular option. Yet, schools, which have been hit particularly hard in recent years, say they are running out of choices.
“I’m the first who said we need to be sensitive to our community out there,” Superintendent Kathy McNamara said. Yet, noting that schools have educational mandates, she added, “We have nowhere to go. This is really the final stage of our budget reduction.”
In addition to cutting teacher positions and support staff, the district also faces the prospect of eliminating bus routes, McNamara said, because funding models for transportation are based on fuel prices from the 1980s. One option the district is considering would entail charging the 1,900 students who ride the bus for their transportation, something other districts currently do.
Beyond that, the district once again must negotiate with unions representing teachers and classified staffers to determine further cuts.
Jim Lynett, president of the teachers union, said the union is not at odds with the district and realizes it is in a tough position.
“We’re not arguing with the district,” he said. “We want to work together.”
Like the administrators, he said there are few options.
“We’re definitely going to lose teachers,” he said.
In addition to losing jobs, teachers are paying significantly more for health coverage, resulting in pay cuts. Meanwhile, all stipends are in jeopardy, he said.
While talks about the next year’s budget are in the early stages, Nay said the classified staff, like the teachers, will once again be asked to consider furloughs, layoffs and pay freezes. Even after last year’s federal stimulus, she said, the classified staff, which includes 311 clerical workers, secretaries, attendants and other support staff, is thin.
“We’re bare-boned on custodial services,” she said.
With so many variables such as the temporary state tax, which could become a ballot measure this June, no one knows what to prepare for at this point.
“You’re just bouncing around, and you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Lynett said.
In 35 years of teaching, he added, he’s never seen it worse. And with no sign of relief, the school staff is going to get smaller each year.
“It’s heartbreaking to see the people lose their jobs and lose their homes,” he said.