Editorial: Mix new blood with the old

The economic crisis has taken a heavy toll on the Paso Robles Unified School District. Among other austerity measures, the district has laid off teachers; increased class size at every level; eliminated or reduced a slew of programs, including drama, music, art, athletics, AVID and GATE; and reduced the transportation program. District trustees even cut their own monthly stipends by 50 percent.

An infusion of $1.3 million from the Federal Jobs Act allowed the district to rehire some employees — including teachers and bus drivers — but that was one-time money, which means more hard budget decisions will have to be made in the future.

Given the circumstances, we believe it makes sense to maintain some continuity of leadership, while bringing in some new expertise in finance and budgeting.

For that reason, we recommend re-election of incumbents Jay Packer and Jeanne Dugger. Joe Quiroz, the other incumbent seeking re-election, also has been strong on the school board, but in the final analysis, we believe the district would benefit from the business background and fresh perspective of challenger Field Gibson.

Here’s a closer look at the candidates we endorse:

Jeanne Dugger has served on the school board for 18 years. During that time, she has been a passionate advocate for youth; she was among the protesters opposing school budget cuts when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger came to San Luis Obispo a couple of years ago. She’s been a member of the district’s Fiscal Policy Committee for many years, and she brings a wealth of institutional knowledge to the board.

Dugger has been a particularly strong voice for students with special needs. She first ran for office at a time when the district was coming under fire from parents of special needs children — those with autism and attention deficit disorder, and students who learn better through alternative schools — and she lobbied for more education options for those youths.

We believe she would continue to be a strong advocate for families facing economic and educational challenges.

W. Jay Packer was elected to the school board four year ago, following a 30-year teaching career at Paso Robles High School. We endorsed him in the last election because we believed the insights of a recently retired teacher would be valuable. That proved to be the case; Packer has been a thoughtful, hard-working board member and has been able to draw on personal experience in confronting current challenges. For example, he knows firsthand how it feels to receive a pink slip, having been there himself.

He also has some intriguing suggestions for improvement. We especially like his idea of modifying the teacher evaluation system to require five years to earn tenure, rather than three. He says he plans to take the idea to the full board.

“I’m a teacher,” he said, “and I feel that’s one of the areas where our system can be strengthened. I’m always looking for ways to create accountability.”

The Tribune strongly urges voters to re-elect W. Jay Packer.

Field Gibson has a strong background in business, including a finance and property management degree from Cal Poly and a long career in the insurance industry that includes risk management experience. He also has been extremely involved in youth sports and other organizations, and that has given him a broad understanding of the community.

He is extremely knowledgeable on the issues, and he’s not afraid to disagree with some of the district’s past decisions.

For example, he was highly critical of the decision to eliminate many bus routes — a decision later revised — and called it a “huge mistake” to expect small children to walk long distances to school.On the issue of student achievement, he was the only candidate who pointed out that while test scores have improved, they are still among the lowest in the area.

Such doses of reality — while not always welcome — are often absolutely necessary to attain progress.

We believe that Field Gibson would help the district weather the ongoing fiscal crisis, in addition to helping the schools become stronger. The Tribune strongly endorses Field Gibson for Paso Robles school board.

The tribune’s endorsement

Election: Paso Robles Unified School District

Number of seats: Three

Term: Four years

Salary: $120 per month; eligible for health benefits

Candidates: Incumbent Jeanne Dugger; risk manager Field Gibson; Children’s Ministry Director Katy Griffin; incumbent W. Jay Packer; incumbent Joe Quiroz; retired sales representative Robert Welty

The Tribune endorses: Field Gibson, Jeanne Dugger, W. Jay Packer