Paso school hopefuls sound off

A year after Paso Robles Public Schools faced its toughest budget crisis in recent history, the next school board faces declining enrollment, reduced funding from the state and low test scores.

This year, three incumbents face challenges.

During an interview with the Tribune’s editorial board, all six candidates said they opposed a parcel tax to raise more money for the district, and all six said they favored salary cuts as a means to save other jobs. Here are the candidates:

Jeanne Dugger

First elected to the board in 1992, Dugger has seen prior budget crises, but the current one, she said, is the worst.

Because board members won’t be able to attend helpful seminars or conferences — which were recently cut from the budget — incumbents will be better able to deal with troubled times, she said.

“The reason I ran for the board again is that I have historical knowledge to share with new board members of where we’ve been,” Dugger said. “I’ve been through budget crises in the past ... it would be silly to make mistakes we’ve made in the past.”

Like the other incumbents, Dugger, who has been involved in groups such as PTA, Boys Scouts and Boys and Girls Club, touted her role in bringing Superintendent Kathy McNamara to the district.

“When we hired our superintendent, we were looking for a curriculum specialist who would help us in our drive to raise achievement,” Dugger said. “She has done an excellent job.”

Field Gibson

Gibson, a financial planner, thinks the school board erred when it cut funding for busing and extra-curricular activities.

“If anything, I would be expanding those opportunities,” he said of activities such as sports and band. “And I would expand vocational opportunities. I would be expanding Skills USA, I would be offering the start of an arts program, and I would expand things like a viticulture program.”

While the budget is tight, he would encourage every teacher to make a small sacrifice in pay “before I’d pink slip one more person and make one more family destitute.”

A former Cal Poly wrestler, Gibson has long been involved in youth sports.

While incumbents praised rising test scores, Gibson said the scores are still way behind compared to other districts.

“It’s great that we’re improving, but I think we need to make significant changes.”

Katy Griffin

Griffin said she knows firsthand how budget cuts can affect teachers. Her husband, Rick, a physical education teacher at Flamson Middle School, recently received a layoff notice after 20 years of teaching. Though he ended up keeping his job, the family spent months uncertain of its future.

Griffin, who has worked with the PTA, as a crossing guard and as a church counselor, thinks the board should encourage more community participation.

“I believe we can rally together,” she said. “We cannot let this dampen the spirit of our community, of our schools, of our teachers.”

Griffin said she’s worried about large class sizes and said many members of the community are concerned about Measure T, a school bond and property tax increase that funded school building repairs and expansions.

She said she only supports pay cuts for teachers if the teachers agree to furlough days as a way to avoid layoffs.

Jay Packer

Retired after 30 years of teaching art at Paso Robles High School, Packer said he can relate to teaching staff while understanding the realities of the budget crunch, both as a board member and father.

“One of the most difficult things I did this year was give a pink slip to my own son-in-law and a 40-percent cut to my daughter, who teaches at Lewis Middle School,” he said.

He touts bringing forth regular evaluations for the superintendent and retirement incentives that have saved the district money.

In the future, he’d like to see an arts academy similar to the Atascadero Fine Arts Academy, and he’d like to reform teacher evaluations.

It now takes just three years to gain tenure; he’d like to see it take five, with regular skills updates to retain tenure.

If re-elected, he said he would “provide stability in unstable times and continue to provide oversight and accountability.”

Joe Quiroz

Retired after 31 years as a program manager and gang specialist with the California Youth Authority, this board member said he brings forth leadership and experience with kids.

“I understand how budgets work with the school district,” he said. “I’ve been through those wars.”

Like the other incumbents up for re-election, the Navy veteran supported Measure T, saying it provided needed updates.

And he has frequently suggested that teachers need to take pay cuts, which he said administrators have already accepted.

“I’ve been in the union’s ear about furloughs in public, in meetings,” he said.

When asked about homelessness, Quiroz — the only Latino to ever serve on the board — took a firm stand after candidate Robert Welty said the parents, not the district, were responsible for feeding children.

“I refuse to let kids starve because we want their parents to be responsible,” he said.

Robert Welty

A former extension education specialist for Kansas State University, Welty, who has a masters degree in agronomy, said he has experience planning and implementing programs and writing grant proposals.

Also a former salesman for Chevron, the youth church group leader has experience in private business as well.

Faced with financial woes, Welty said the district has to get parents more involved.

“Until we’re reaching the parents of children, we’re missing a very important link,” he said. “So there’s got to be some type of outreach to get parents more involved.”

Rather than rely on the community to pay higher taxes, Welty said the school board has to be more creative in raising money.

“There are some really wealthy people in this area that we need to do an outreach on and see if we can generate some revenue,” he said.