PASO ROBLES — The Chris Williams era of the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District is officially over. Friday, Dec. 21, was his last official day as superintendent.
Thursday, Dec. 20, school district trustees held a special meeting and took care of some house cleaning related to the unexpected departure of Williams.
Trustees were able to renegotiate the severance package for Williams, saving the financially-strapped district some money in the process, and also officially hired Julian Crocker as interim superintendent.
Following a 3-hour closed session, it was made public that Williams will receive a lump-sum payout of $113,409, equal to six months of pay. The vote by trustees was 7-0.
“The County Superintendent and fiscal advisor have asked that the Board and Superintendent Williams revisit the separation agreement to conform to the District's fiscal stabilization plan as presented to the County office. We would like to thank the Board and Mr. Williams for reaching a revised agreement at a reduced amount that allows the district to move forward and conforms to the district's fiscal stabilization plan,” stated Board President Joel Peterson in a press release following the meeting that also included copies of the original resignation and settlement agreement from Dec. 6 as well as the amended document.
The amended amount is half of what trustees initially voted to give Williams during a special meeting back on Dec. 6.
At that meeting, then-board President Joan Summers announced Williams was resigning and that a mutual agreement had been struck via a vote of 6-1 — Chris Bausch voted no.
"Superintendent Williams initiated his resignation and we are sad to say that the board and Superintendent Williams came to a mutual agreement effective 60 days from today," Summers said back on Dec. 6.
The terms of that closed-session agreement were not made public in open session, but word of an agreement that had Williams receiving a severance package of $250,000 did begin circulating in the public. It was even brought up during public comment of a school board meeting on Dec. 11, the same night the new board was seated.
But according to the original agreement, Williams was to receive $226,818 “in monthly installments beginning Feb. 1, 2019, and shall be paid in full on or before July 1, 2019.”
Prior to trustees going into closed session on Thursday, nine people spoke during public comment that lasted nearly 30 minutes. All but one said Williams should not receive anything, placing the blame for the District’s financial troubles squarely on his shoulders while at the same time applauding him for reinvigorating the District’s programs and offerings.
People that spoke included former and current teachers and union representatives.
“If this board does not vote to rescind the agreement there will very likely be legal action taken by citizens or a citizens group to get a temporary restraining order to stop any payment to Mr. Williams as well as to look into what appears to be probably, ethical misconduct by those trustees who support the payout,” said former teacher Dorian Baker. “The board of trustees as individuals will be held accountable for the actions they take here today.”
Just one speaker, Ray Katz, said to “pay the man. He’s done a lot for the schools. … I share the vision of what Mr. Williams brought in. … I like the way it has changed under Mr. Williams. Don’t be bullied by their slander, lies, twisted facts, made up stories.”
The revised payout allows the District to save some money as it contends with a $2.9 million shortfall in the next couple of years.
The District is in the midst of recovering from a drop in its general fund reserve to .96 percent at the conclusion of the 2017-18 budget cycle. The reserve falling below the required amount triggered a series of actions and deadlines for the District to undertake and meet, including budget oversight by the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education and contracting with a Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team just to name a few.
In addition to finalizing the agreement with Williams, trustees unanimously voted, 7-0, to hire interim Superintendent Crocker on Thursday.
Crocker is well respected and comes at a saving to the District. He is a former superintendent of the Paso Robles school district and retired San Luis Obispo County Superintendent of Schools.
The San Luis Obispo County Office of Education is paying Crocker’s salary, County Schools Superintendent Jim Brescia said.
Board President Peterson was appreciative of the SLOCOE’s assistance.
“The County Office of Education is committed to assisting our district by providing a fiscal advisor, interim superintendent services and other support at no additional cost to the district,” Peterson stated. “We are all in this together to meet the needs of our students and our community. Please join me in thanking Dr. Julian Crocker, who has agreed to serve as the interim superintendent and the County Office of Education for their guidance and support.”