PASO ROBLES — In the wake of last week’s disappointing budget report, Paso Robles Joint Unified School District Superintendent Chris Williams is doing more than throwing words at the problem.
Staff in the district, including the administration, was scheduled to receive a 1.5 percent pay increase beginning in the 2018-19 school year. Williams is donating the 1.5 percent he was set to receive into a fund for teacher classroom budgets. Teachers may use the classroom budgets to purchase school supplies throughout the year.
“I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the work our teachers and staff do everyday and their feedback is invaluable,” Williams said. “Last week was challenging, yet I value their comments and felt it essential to put the 1.5 percent back into their hands and in the hands of students.”
The move by Williams comes after some tough talks this past week with many PRJUSD staff, and one-on-one meetings with some board members.
“In my fifth year leading this district, the same board members that governed and held me accountable for countless initiatives, pushed me, challenged me and understood the significance and importance of me putting the pay raise back into the hands of our teachers,” Williams said. “These were extremely tough one-on-one meetings, but I appreciate their feedback and expectations.”
On Tuesday, Sept. 25, at the monthly school board meeting, the district informed the public that reserves had dropped to .96 percent — $754,413 — at the end of the 2017-18 school year, according to PRJUSD’s Unaudited Actuals Report.
The California Department of Education requires school districts to maintain a reserve of 3 percent. Following past fiscal troubles in the district, PRJUSD trustees have asked for reserves to be 10 percent.
At the Sept. 25 meeting, Williams went in a direction that is not always taken by top administrators. He stood in front of the packed boardroom and shouldered the blame.
“It is 100 percent my responsibility and accountability that I own this budget, and I am responsible for it. I do not point my finger to blame anyone else,” Williams said on Sept. 25. “The reality is that the time I’ve spent implementing new programs, upgrading facilities, and creating award-winning visual and performing arts programs that offer art, music and dance for every elementary students, should have been spent focused on the budget.”
Williams and trustees, many who are up for re-election, took some heat from the public.
New Chief Business Officer Brad Pawlowski explained in detail that overspending, under budgeting and accounting errors led to the reserve falling.
With the reserve under 2 percent, it automatically triggered additional budget approval by the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education, which the district received, and requires the district to contract with a Fiscal Crisis Management Team (FCMAT).
FCMAT will complete a fiscal health analysis that looks at 19 specific areas within the business office of the district.
The County Office of Education will also appoint a fiscal adviser with budget authority and the district will appoint a budget communications committee.
With the books officially closed on the 2017-18 budget, the district is looking to improve the reserve in 2018-19 and is projecting it to rise to 2.19 percent — $1.713 million. The district’s overall budget is roughly $78 million.
To get there, trustees have tasked Williams and his team to look for ways to trim expenses, but also made it crystal clear that if cuts are needed to bring the budget to where they expect it to be that those cuts come from the top and will not include furlough days.
The district’s plan is to look at managerial first, followed in order by programs and facilities.
“My passion and purpose for each of our students, staff members and community has and will not change,” Williams recently said. “We have the staff and family that will come together and work through this, inch by inch and dollar by dollar.”