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Paso Robles teachers warned of impending layoffs

Grim budget numbers were shown to an audience of mostly of Paso Robles Unified School District staff followed by a question and answer session with administrators. Budget cuts are anticipated for the next two years.
David Middlecamp
Grim budget numbers were shown to an audience of mostly of Paso Robles Unified School District staff followed by a question and answer session with administrators. Budget cuts are anticipated for the next two years. David Middlecamp

School administrators in Paso Robles aren’t being overly pessimistic when they talk about having to lay off as many as 39 people, one administrator told a crowd of 120 people Monday night.

In fact, said Gary Hoskins, assistant superintendent of business for Paso Robles Public Schools, the cuts the administration is proposing could even get worse when the state finally finishes its budget. “It is that bad of a situation,” Hoskins said.

The meeting preceded tonight’s school board meeting, during which the board must decide exactly how many teachers will be mailed pink slips. But that number is only tentative. By law the district has to notify teachers who might actually get laid off 45 days before the end of the school year.

“That doesn’t mean they will be laid off,” said Jim Lynett, president of the Paso Robles Public Educators teachers union.

The crowd, consisting of teachers, principals, board members and even members of the high school water polo team — which could find itself without a pool under one cost-cutting proposal — offered up various suggestions for savings.

But practically every option — be it private grants, solar energy or four-day weeks — either won’t be possible or wouldn’t save money, they were told. A few others, such as the possibility of eliminating after-school sports — could still be up for discussion.

Those talks will begin as the school board announces budget cuts over a series of meetings.Because 85 percent of the budget relies on state funding, the board won’t know for sure how much they need to cut until the state finishes its budget in the summer. Yet, the state board of education requires schools to have their budgets in prior to that.

“So they’re basically working on a set of assumptions,” Lynett said.

Hoskins admitted there is uncertainty. But he’s not optimistic about the numbers getting better.“There’s a lot of unknowns here,” he said. “Educational funding is not likely to get better.”

The crowd was civil for a meeting in which layoffs were assured. Several even lauded the administration for its efforts to remain transparent and explore all options. But Lynett would like to see the district request a $20-a-month parcel tax. That tax, which would apply to parcel owners in the district, would raise $2 million, he said.

“They haven’t even put that on the agenda to discuss it,” he said.

After the meeting, Superintendent Kathy McNamara said a parcel tax is unlikely.

“We want to be sensitive to the community,” she said.

Besides, she added, a parcel tax would have to be approved by two-thirds of voters, and they have already shot down a water initiative.

Also, Hoskins explained, a parcel tax would not address immediate shortfalls — namely, a projected $7.4 million in cuts needed for the next budget. This year’s budget was balanced, Hoskins explained, only because of a one-time loan and federal stimulus money, which has been used.

Meanwhile, Proposition 13, passed in 1978, limits increases to property taxes.

The board and administration will consider furloughs, larger class sizes, pay cuts and elimination of music programs. But those proposals are not popular with the union.

“All of that is catastrophic,” Lynett said.

Yet, something has to be done, said McNamara, who noted that everyone is feeling the effects of a poor economy.

“Our community is suffering, too,” she said. “This is a statewide — a nationwide — dilemma.”

Having worked in education since the 1970s, McNamara said afterward, this is the worst financial shape she’s seen schools in. And as the board, administrators and teachers union work to develop a budget, tough decisions will be made with jobs — the district’s biggest expense that can be cut.“It’s painful,” she said. “It’s these people’s livelihoods. It’s very hurtful to me because I was a young teacher once.”

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