PASO ROBLES — Eleven of 12 Paso Robles Joint Unified School District candidates participated in a forum Wednesday evening, Sept. 30 held via Zoom and streamed live on the PRJUSD YouTube channel.

The Paso Robles Education Alliance organized and hosted the forum. PREA is a nonprofit, community-based organization that supports and enriches the educational environment of Paso Robles Public Schools.

Twelve people are running for four seats on the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District School Board. Incumbents Chris Bausch and Joan Summers, and challengers Jim Reed, Laura Parker, Ruben Canales Jr., Caitlin Vierra, Nathan Williams, Jim Cogan, Dorian Baker, Frank Triggs and Greg Goodman participated in the forum. Candidate Leonard Washington did not participate.

Candidates provided opening and closing statements and answered three rounds of questions related to the District’s finances, dual-immersion, diversity, COVID-19, athletics and Career Technical Education. Each was limited to 60 seconds per reply.

The forum went smoothly and was completed in less than 2 hours.

The community provided the first two rounds of questions and the candidates were broken up into three groups. Each group of 3-4 candidates was asked a different question.

During the final round, moderator Danna Stroud, CEO of Travel Paso, asked each candidate a question that was formed from their candidate statements.

General knowledge of the District finances, dual-immersion and initiatives to support Hispanics was the theme of the first round of questions.

“I really believe that decisions about children can become very emotional and it can be hard to say no once you have started them. When a decision is brought to the board, we really need metrics to judge them on when it becomes a budgetary decision,” Vierra said. “If we are going to make a budgetary decision, we need a way to gauge if that is going to be effective later on.”

Bringing the community into the budget process, being transparent with decision-making and being more hands-on were brought up by Triggs, Reed and Williams.

Georgian Brown Elementary is a dual-immersion magnet school in the District. It’s a popular and successful program. Current trustees have indicated expanding dual-immersion to other schools in the District when the budget allows.

Candidates were asked their thoughts on the program and how it could be expanded beyond elementary. The group, Bausch, Goodman, Canales and Parker, said it was an outstanding program and needed to be at the upper levels.

“Dual-immersion could be one way to draw more families to public schools because it is in demand and it helps students to develop the language center of their brain and it develops a lot of other academic skills in addition to acquiring a second language,” said Parker, whose sons both went through dual-immersion. “There are a lot of ways you can extend the program to middle and high school levels. You could have different teachers teach different subjects in alternate years in the target language. You can also look at advanced placement classes in Spanish language and then going on to Spanish literature so that students can earn college credits if they do well in advanced placement. You can build partnerships with Cuesta and other groups to further the program.”

Specific issues that the District may need to address or was in the process of managing was the second round’s theme.

Athletic facilities and the board’s role in making sure these are available to all levels were asked of Cogan, Baker, Canales and Reed. All of the candidates agreed the District has top-notch facilities and that maintenance was the District’s responsibility.

“I think the coaches, the parents, and the kids that are out there playing are the ones who are experts on the facilities,” said Cogan. “I would, as a board member, help bring together folks and create an opportunity to communicate directly with me and other board members to share their feelings about use and the quality of the sports fields. The big thing is we need to add facilities. We need to add to our budget. A big part of my focus is going to be finding additional revenue sources without raising taxes. There are great opportunities through the use of our vacant space that I would take on and help lead with staff in order to make sure that we have the best facilities possible for our youth.”

Parker, Triggs, Summers and Goodman were asked for a yes or no response to reimbursing teachers using personal wi-fi and cell phones to teach and communicate with parents during distance learning. Only Triggs answered the question as it was posed.

Goodman answered “yes” when Stroud pressed him for an answer after his time elapsed. Parker and Summers did not give a definitive yes or no, instead saying they would need to gather more information and check with the educator’s union.

“We need to be prudent, fair and fiscally responsible and my answer is since this is necessary, this is not something that teachers should have to take money out of their own pockets to do,” Triggs said. “For those things that we require to get the job done, we need to find room in the budget for that and compensate teachers. That is not something they should have to take out of their own pocket. So, yes, we need to take care of that.”

The final group, Bausch, Vierra and Williams, of the second round was asked about the goal and future of Career Technical Education in the District.

All three said CTE was crucial because not every student is going to college and this program provides a way for students to be career-ready after graduation.

“I think Career Technical is imperative. I think those are skills that we are losing as a whole,” Williams said. “One of the things I regret not doing in high school was taking a welding class or an automotive class. I had to learn those things afterward and I really wish that I’d taken advantage of that in high school. A lot of our students are going to graduate from high school and go straight into jobs; many won’t go to college. I think that is a huge thing for us to focus on.”

The question-and-answer portion of the forum wrapped up with each candidate answering a question taken directly from their candidate statement. They were asked to give specific ideas on how they would, for example, improve the District’s finances, deliver a well-rounded education, and regain the trust of the community.

The forum concluded with a final round of 60-second candidate statements.

To view the forum, visit online www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Qbt7A37amI.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles