Dubost says more reductions coming; recommendations likely in January 

PASO ROBLES — The financially challenged Paso Robles Joint Unified School District can’t seem to catch a break.

Recent reports by Chief Business Officer Brad Pawlowski showed the District was rebounding.  He told trustees Tuesday night, Dec. 10,  during their first interim budget report that declining enrollment was changing and with it so to were their positive projections.

“With the potential of declining enrollment like we are trending at this point, it is slight, but we are trending, then yes this is a significant impact to the district,” Pawlowski said.

PRJUSD’s reserve dropped to .96 percent at the end of the 2017-18 budget. Districts the size of Paso Robles are required to have a stockpile of 3 percent. 

Over the past calendar year, the District, while working closely with the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education, cut nearly $2.1 million from the 2019-20 fiscal budget and resolved to cut at least $800,000 from the 2020-21 budget.

Even with the minimum $800,000 in reductions and the drop in enrollment accounted for, Pawlowski said they were projecting finishing with a reserve of 3.12 percent in 2019-20, which was good news.

Projections for the subsequent two years were going in the opposite direction. Reserves at the end of the 20-21 budget slip to 2.82 percent and come in at 1.27 percent for 21-22.

As expected, District trustees on Tuesday, Dec. 10, unanimously approved $1.083 million in cuts to the 2020-21 budget — $392,000 to three management positions; $436,191 to classified and certificated positions; and $255,000 related to programs. In all, the District cut the equivalent of 12 full-time positions. Nearly all of the personnel reductions were to positions not currently filled.

Saved for now from the chopping block were $60,000 in program reductions — $35,000 for elementary athletics and $25,000 for elementary physical education.

Due to the enrollment numbers, Superintendent Curt Dubost told trustees they were already looking at more cuts.

“The worst news is the declining enrollment and that blows a hole in things for three years and makes it necessary for us to come back in January with another round of budget cuts. Plain and simple,” Dubost said.

The District has between 6,000 and 7,000 students. Enrollment through the first three months of the current year is down by about 1 percent.

Trustee Joel Peterson put the dip in enrollment into perspective.

“They are sobering numbers and not easy to take,” Peterson said. “If you take a look at this, it really shows you what the estimation of ADA can do to a budget and decimate it. He’s talking about flat ADA or declining enrollment, which means we are talking about 1 percent. One percent is 70 kids, and 70 kids swings $700,000.”

Not that long ago, the District was celebrating a bit. Pawlowski shared in early September that the District’s reserve was at 2.68 percent ($2.198 million) after the 2018-19 budget cycle. At that time, projections had the reserve coming in at 3.01 percent for 21-22. There was some belief that the District could get above 3 percent even sooner.

“We have made significant improvements over the last 12 months,” Pawlowski said back then.

Pawlowski said at the time any turnaround was dependent on several factors, including conservative budgeting, trustees approving sizable cuts, stable enrollment and no significant changes in funding from the state.

Pawlowski always tempered his comments with three words — “if nothing changes.”

Something has changed, namely enrollment, and that is going to lead to more sizable cuts.

“We have to have these difficult conversations,” Pawlowski said. “We will have talks about reductions. Most likely, the next level of reductions is going to impact programs and then they will impact people.”

When asked to put a dollar amount on future cuts, Pawlowski said it was premature.

“At this point, I don’t want to put a number around it because of the uncertainty with the Governor’s budget,” Pawlowski said.

While it was somber mood at the meeting, the conservative approach taken by the District did not go unnoticed by trustees. There is hope that the Governor’s budget will provide some relief when it comes out in early 2020.

“I appreciate the upfront approach and looking at the numbers, yeah they don’t look great,” said Trustee Lance Gannon. “There are some things that are likely to show up, but we are not showing those. I like that approach, that very conservative approach because I would rather be pleasantly surprised than to get the surprise of a worse situation.”

Getting through this together, Paso Robles