Over the Hill

Furlough days came at a cost for Paso Robles teachers, students

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx

Did you read about the public schools here in Paso Robles? They decided to stop having furlough days. The teachers applauded that decision because furlough days aren’t days off with pay. They are days off without pay that save money for the school district. They are layoff days.

The Paso Robles furlough days started back in 2012. The school district was almost broke, so that spring it declared six furlough days. They saved the district $1.1 million.

That’s one way to put it. Another way is to say the furlough days took $1.1 million from the teachers and other school employees.

There were two weeks in May 2012 when Paso Robles public schools took Mondays and Fridays off as furlough days. The other two furlough days came later that year. Another school year had 12 furlough days and this most recent school year had six.

Some of those furlough days were teacher work days when no children would have been present. But the other furlough days were regular school days, each of which cost the students a day’s education.

In 2012, Kathleen McNamara, the Paso Robles schools superintendent, said the district’s operating costs were increasing while its operating money from the state was decreasing. Over the previous four years, its state money had decreased 21 percent.

She also said that, at one point, the district’s reserve fund had evaporated to less than 1 percent of the budget. She said the district also cut spending and laid off employees as enrollment declined.

The Great Recession of 2008 echoed into 2011 and 2012 leading many of us to earn less and spend less. Therefore the state collected less sales and income tax, and had less money for supporting schools, although prices and costs continued to increase.

What about the lottery? Wasn’t it supposed to support education? Don’t hold your breath waiting for that. I read an article in the Orange County Register that said the lottery “only accounts for one percent of education funding.”

But now things are looking up. The Paso Robles school district’s budget for the coming school year, 2014-15, includes a 6 percent reserve fund. And there’s talk of eventually raising it to 10 percent.

But what about those kids who missed school because of the furlough days? There’s so much to learn these days, and we’ll never know whether they missed something vital. They may never know either.

There must be a more stable way to finance education. If we don’t find one, California will continue to slip into mediocrity because there will be more recessions.