Paso officials ponder move of pupils to save money

In a possibly money-saving move, Paso Robles school leaders could decide later this month whether to move pupils from a small school for expelled students to what is now part of an elementary school.

They’re waiting until Jan. 26 to decide whether to move students from the campus 11 miles west of town south of Highway 46 to the Marie Bauer side of Bauer-Speck Elementary School on the west side of the city.

The Phillips Freedom program educates 46 students who have been expelled from traditional schools in grades seven through 12.

The Paso Robles school board requested last week that administrators research a plan that could move the students to the Bauer school building at 17th and Vine streets, which now serves kindergarten and first grade, in an effort to save money.

That side of the campus at the two-part Bauer-Speck school might close under a separate proposal — also intended to save money — to consolidate students to the Speck side across the street, which now serves second through fifth grades.

Under the plan to move the Phillips Freedom students, the Speck side would serve kindergarten through fifth grade and the Bauer side would serve the expelled students.

Moving Phillips Freedom to the Bauer campus wasn’t among the original money-saving ideas proposed. That’s because when administrators first started discussing moving Phillips Freedom, they hadn’t considered closing any schools, said Paulette Pahler, Paso Robles Public Schools director of student services.

Closing Bauer is a newer savings proposal that came up in recent budget discussions, she added.

A plan to move the Bauer students is among the school district’s proposals to cut at least $7.4 million from its budget over the next 18 months because of state funding cuts.

The other budget proposals, including more teacher layoffs and cuts to coach stipends, will be discussed at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

Bringing Phillips Freedom students to town would save the district the estimated $55,000 to $65,000 annually it costs to bus them to its current site.

The options originally presented to the board were variations of plans to move the students to portable buildings at the Independence High School site on 28th Street or on the lawn near the district offices at 800 Niblick Road.

A new Independence High School is being built along Niblick Road, next to Liberty Continuation High School, with money from Measure T, a voter-approved bond and property-tax increase.

The school board wants to explore moving Phillips Freedom to Bauer, if that side of the school closes, because conditions on the deed restrict use of the site to educational purposes, district spokeswoman Anne Quinn said.

Administrators are proposing to close the Bauer side to save on the utility and custodial costs to operate it.

If the students move out of the 10-acre Phillips Freedom site, that land could be sold. The property is now being appraised, officials said.

In a separate agenda item, the school board was also presented the option of adding expelled sixth graders to the Phillips Freedom program.

Expelled students below the seventh grade are now put on independent study/home school programs, Quinn said.

The district officials do not intend to place students lower than sixth grade at this school, according to district documents.

The district would like to build a separate community school for those younger students, Quinn said, but it can’t afford to do so.

An average of one to two younger students are expelled each year, Quinn said.

If the board votes to add sixth graders to Phillips Freedom at its Jan. 26 meeting, “staff will work to keep younger students separate from older students as much as possible,” Quinn added.

Meeting Tuesday

The school board budget analysis meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. at 800 Niblick Road. Call 238-2222 or visit http://king.prps.k12.ca.us. The board will discuss the Phillips Freedom move on Jan. 26. Times for that meeting aren’t yet available.