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Battered Paso schools brace for possible needs 

Already anemic, the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District can’t afford to trim spending any further, so if voters reject a statewide sales tax increase, Paso’s schools will need to find alternative funding sources—and fast.

That was the general consensus at a roundtable discussion held Oct. 30 with the district board of trustees, prospective candidates, school principals, faculty, staff, and a few concerned parents.

“We’re going to be a sinking ship if [Proposition] 30 doesn’t pass,” trustee Katy Griffin said.

Assistant Superintendent Elizabeth Wilson presented “A Tale of Two Outcomes,” a report outlining the district’s current fiscal state and what could happen after Nov. 6 whether voters pass or reject Proposition 30, a quarter-cent sales tax increase championed by Gov. Jerry Brown as a means to save government services in California.

If passed, schools in Paso Robles would add another $3 million to their collective budget. District officials said the budget drafted in March was based on state projections without extra Proposition 30 revenue. In it, furlough days were enacted, cutting the school year short by eight days, and 30 pink slips were sent out. Class sizes were increased.

Now, it seems the state’s revenue projections were overly optimistic. Without Proposition 30, further cuts would be triggered in January, and the possibility was left open for officials to add another 12 furlough days to the school year.

To stave off such a drastic move, the group brainstormed a list of 24 revenue-generating ideas for staff to consider, categorize, and rank. No measures were rejected, and included in the list were a possible bond measure or parcel tax, negotiations with employees to pay a larger percentage of health insurance costs, and ratcheting up fees for bus riders. At the top of the list, in bold, was a push for improved communications with the community. District officials worried that trash talk from some bitter teachers would drive parents to take kids elsewhere, which would negatively impact average daily attendance, a figure that determines the district’s budget.

“When teachers talk smack about our schools, people believe it,” trustee Debi Saunders said.

Due to long term, unsustainable deficit spending, the district was placed on “negative consideration” status in December, prompting intervention from the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education. A financial advisor was assigned to the district, and officials were required to maintain a 3 percent reserve.

The district is also on “program improvement” for failing to meet the benchmarks of No Child Left Behind, which requires schools to meet minimum test scores in order to receive federal funding. Officials maintain that their scores are improving, but the demands are too strict.

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