Commentary: Former Paso school district CBO gives his perspective

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was sent as a Letter to the Editor, but due to its length we are running it as a commentary.

As the former Chief Business Officer for the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District, I had the pleasure of working with Field Gibson, Dr. Kathleen Hall, Tim Gearhart and Matt McClish. These four were very active and involved school board members in their interactions with me regarding the requirement to have a balanced budget and to make progress toward the building of the reserve to a minimum of 10 percent.

Under the direction of Superintend Chris Williams and this Board of Trustees, programs were instituted which made PRJUSD the only District in the county with growth. Parents and students wanted to attend schools in the District due to the positive learning environment, innovative programs including after school middle and elementary school sports, one-to-one computer programs where 6th to 12th graders are issued a District Chromebook Computer. Students at Paso Robles High School also have the ability to get Cuesta College credits by attend numerous Paso Robles High School classes.

The existing members of the Board of Trustees have spent a lot of time being trained by the California School Board Association as well as meetings at PRJUSD in the office of the CBO to get answers to their questions. In my 26 years of school business experience, the current Board of Trustees at PRJUSD has been more involved and asked more questions than any other District I have worked for, even one where I was brought in to get local control back after being taken over by the State of California due to fiscal insolvency.

When I started working for PRJUSD in June of 2016, the draft budget needed a lot of corrections with only days in which to do it before the deadline for the Board of Trustees to adopt it. A budget with a small deficit was proposed for adoption with a promise to continue to work toward a balanced budget at 1st Interim. This was not good enough for an alert Board and I had three Board Members in my office on the morning of the Board Meeting talking to me about how it was not acceptable to have any deficit.

The Board conditionally approved the budget (as required) and a balanced budget was presented to the Board by their next meeting. This Board had very strict budget requirements and close fiscal oversight.

Through no fault of this Board, audits uncovered an error made by me and my department in overestimating the Average Daily Attendance as well as some past accounting practices with resulted in reduced revenues and severely affected the current reserve levels. At the time this miscalculation came to light, I took responsibility for it as I was the Chief Business Official and was responsible for the fiscal budgets, budget assumptions and all fiscal reporting.

Many positive changes have occurred at PRJUSD in the last 4 years. Educational programs changed to align with the needs of the students which we are there to serve. This led to staff relentlessly working to create top notch programs with the vision of Supt cabinet and support of this board to make Paso Robles Joint Unified School District a world class organization. In this time of challenges for the District, consistency is needed at the Superintendent and Board levels to maintain steady leadership to carry the District through the current difficult times while still maintaining focus and resources on student needs and programs.

The State of California and oversight by the County Office of Education place requirements and restrictions on budgets. These requirements and restrictions are not within the control of the local School Board.

If the voters in PRJUSD decide to go in another direction by replacing the members of the current Board of Trustees up for reelection, the recent gains in student programs and the resulting growth in student population, may revert to declining enrollment and less student opportunities that the Board of Trustees hired the current Superintendent to change.

I do not believe that the community of Paso Robles could expect better oversight by a School Board than they are have been and are still currently receiving by Field Gibson, Dr. Kathleen Hall, Tim Gearhart and Matt McClish.

Field Gibson in particular spends countless hours reading every page the agendas including the Fiscal reports and budgets. His knowledge and experience have benefited PRJUSD and is irreplaceable.

With my 26 years of school experience, I highly recommend the voters consider to align their vote with belief in the current Superintendent, his cabinet and the world class programs that the PRJUSD students now have. Voters are encouraged to reflect back to where the district was 4 years ago, where they are now, and do they want to continue to grow and move forward.

Duane Wolgamott

Retired Chief Business Officer

Paso Robles Joint Unified School District

Too costly to live here


As a small business owner, I have experienced firsthand how difficult it is to run a business on the Central Coast. But the cost of running a business here is only part of the problem. The other problem is how incredibly expensive it is to live in the Central Coast where few good-paying jobs exist.

Middle class families are leaving San Luis Obispo County at one of the highest rates in the country. The high cost of living, lack of affordable housing, and few good-paying jobs make it hard for families to stay.

Major employers like Weatherby, Really Right Stuff, and Lockheed Martin are moving out of the County because it is too expensive to operate here. We cannot afford to force more companies out of business - and lose more good paying jobs.

As a parent, I want my kids to want to come home after college. As a business owner, I need my customers to stay here. The County needs to retain and increase good-paying jobs so that the beautiful place we live, once again, becomes a place of opportunities and hope.    

Jason Anderson


Endorsing Dariz and Funk for City Council


A candidate for Atascadero City Council should be rooted in our community. He or she should understand what we — the voters — are looking for from our elected public servants.

This November we have three first-timers running for City Council. Our main priority is to know “why” they are running. We want candidates who are able to explain why they got into the race and their positive vision for our community.

We look for individuals who know what matters to them and are willing to stand up for those values even when it is difficult. This is not the same thing as being unwilling to change a position with new information.

Mark Dariz has lived in Atascadero for 10 years and serves on the City Planning Commission. Serving with Mark on the Commission has taught me that he is a serious, thoughtful and open minded public servant.

Having known Susan for five years we are impressed with her willingness to listen to our views and opinions. With 10 years of public service in our community Susan has actively interacted with many of us and knows what we are looking for and how to be a public servant.

We are not trying to tell any citizen who they should pick to represent them; instead our endorsement should be seen as a signal that the candidate is worth investing time to get to know them, because they are running a good campaign. They know “why” they are running and what matters to the community.

Tom and Linda Zirk


Susan Funk offers new solutions


I attended the recent Atascadero City Council Candidate Forum, and was really impressed by one of the candidates, Susan Funk. She was the only one offering concrete solutions to the problems Atascadero faces.

Susan suggested that local service groups might be willing to host forums to generate more public input into the General Plan. The other candidates limited suggestions to social media and generalizations.

To revitalize downtown, the others wanted to let the current zoning changes “play out” and ask businesses what they need — not formulas for change, in my opinion. Susan spoke about creating pathways so both businesses and the city can flourish, providing incentives, fostering upstairs development, etc.

Also unlike the other candidates, Susan has contacted officials in other cities to learn what they have done about problems like Atascadero’s “black hole” properties, owned by absentee landlords who refuse to either develop or sell (think the Walmart property at ECR and Del Rio).  One city planner suggested a “vacancy tax” to give the city more leverage. The others rejected this suggestion without offering any ideas to address our obvious problem.

Susan struck me as a problem-solver who will generate fresh solutions to the problems that have plagued Atascadero. If we want different outcomes for our city, we have to do something different.

Liz Helgerson


Cunningham does not pay


A recent records request disclosed how much our Assembly member, Jordan Cunningham, spent on mailers to constituents over the past legislative session. Mailers can be and are used as campaign materials as long as the communication doesn’t use the word “elect.”

Most legislators exploit this loophole but Mr. Cunningham spent over $308,000 on mailings compared to the average members’ expense of $77,000.

As tax payers, we are paying for the mailers expense regardless of being a Republican, Independent or Democrat, etc. Out of 80 members, he ranked 5th in communications spending and (as of Aug. 31, 2018) spending associated with his duties. This is the same Cunningham who is the former president of the Taxpayers Watch.

Considering 91.5 percent of Cunningham’s campaign money comes from corporations and PAC’s, and he uses four times the average Assembly member’s budget for communications, one sees why incumbency and his enormous campaign financing advantages insulates him in his Assembly seat regardless of his popularity or policies.

Campaigns waged in the media and junk mail push the public further and further away from the democratic process our elections were meant to be.

Tom Comar


Vote for Funk


I moved to Atascadero because I think this is the best part of the country to live in.  Early in my career I served as an advisor to the City Council of Los Angeles. I saw firsthand how critical it is to have creative, constructive and open minded representatives if we are to preserve where we have chosen to live, while still managing the changes that we must confront.  And I witnessed what can go wrong when that constructive leadership is missing. That is why I support Susan Funk for Atascadero City Council.

Susan understands what is needed to preserve what is best about our neighborhood, and what we need to do to keep our future strong. And her experience in business has made her recognize that we must  work together to build that future.

We need consensus building leaders with a positive and unifying vision as we confront these challenges. A vote for Susan Funk is a vote to forge that stronger community.

George Williams



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