Stipends for Paso Robles schools coaches threatened by budget cuts

First it was the teachers, then the classified employees, and now the coaches.

As Paso Robles Public Schools continues to mark up its budget for cuts, various groups are appealing to the school board to protect their funding. But as the slashing efforts continue to come up short, those appeals seem increasingly futile.

Stipends for coaches and teachers who oversee other extracurricular activities, after all, account for about $650,000. And, the district says, it needs to cut nearly $8 million from its budget for next year.

“They deserve the stipends. They work hard for the money,” said school board President Bob Simola, who listened to teachers and coaches talk about the value of stipends at Tuesday night’s board meeting. Yet, he added, “If we give them stipends, we have to fire 10 to 12 teachers.”

That would be in addition to the 70 full-time teachers and 69 classified employees whose jobs already face elimination.

“Welcome to the Republican world of no new taxes,” Simola said. “Welcome to smaller government.”For teachers who currently get stipends, the issue is sensitive. They feel they deserve to be paid for their extra work, yet they don’t want to fuss too much about $3,000 to $4,000 when peers face losing entire salaries.

“It’s not about the money,” said Mike Gray, who coaches girls basketball and softball and chairs the physical education department at Paso Robles High School. “It’s really more about the principle of them expecting us to do it for free.”

The cuts would entail eliminating stipends completely and significantly reducing transportation money for athletics.

“It would have a major effect on sports,” said Gray, who worries extracurricular cuts could cause some Paso Robles students to leave the district, which would result in even less money coming in. “It would hurt the school spirit as well.”

If there is no stipend, Gray said, he probably won’t continue to coach.

“I don’t think they’ll get rid of the programs,” said Gray, who speculated Paso Robles teams could wind up with parents as coaches, like in Little League. “I just don’t know what the quality will be.”

In addition to sports, stipend cuts impact extracurricular programs involving music, drama and writing.Jeff Mount, who teaches journalism at the high school, said he dedicates about 10 hours a week working with students on the school newspaper and yearbook.

“Sometimes I read what they’ve done hours into the night,” he said.

Hours get even longer as deadlines approach or when he takes students to a national journalism convention. While the stipend doesn’t increase his salary significantly, it is a show of appreciation for his efforts, he said. And Mount doesn’t want the board to forget the efforts he and others make.

Given that some of his peers are losing jobs, Mount said he will sacrifice, doing the extracurricular work for free next year. But he hopes the stipend freeze is just that.

“I’ve appreciated they’re using the term ‘frozen’ as if it will be unfrozen,” Mount said.

For their part, the board members said they are sacrificing as well. They recently adopted a less expensive insurance plan for themselves and cut their monthly stipend in half. The board, which has encouraged furloughs — as administrators have taken — is also pleased that the classified union appears to have agreed to several furlough days this year. Money saved from classified furloughs, Simola said, will go to saving classified jobs next year.

The board might even reconsider pursuing a parcel tax, which has to be approved by local voters. Anything is better, Simola said, than layoffs.