By JOSH FRIEDMAN
The San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury details the failures of the former superintendent and other officials at the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District that led to the district’s financial crisis in a recently released report.
Between 2014 and 2018, the Paso Robles school district’s reserves declined from about 10 percent of the budget, or more than $6 million, to approximately .4 percent of the budget, or slightly more than $300,000. Subsequently, top Paso Robles school officials resigned and the district was placed under county financial control for the second time in less than seven years.
In Dec. 2018, then-Superintendent Chris Williams resigned and agreed to a settlement in which he would receive $226,000 in severance pay. Amid public outcry, the county superintendent of education helped negotiate a new agreement with Williams receiving $113,000 in severance pay.
The SLO County Grand Jury found accounting errors, non-budgeted expenditures by Williams and a lack of proper oversight by the school board led to the depletion of the district’s reserves. The grand jury also cited salary and pension increases and turnover in key positions as factors.
Particularly, there was significant turnover among chief business officers and financial managers. Twice, Williams was the acting chief business officer, which “left a serious gap in accountability with no systems for checks and balances,” according to the report.
Additionally, the Grand Jury discovered there is no clear plan or path forward for the construction of the district’s planned aquatics complex. Yet, the district has already spent $1.5 million of Measure M funds on the project, including the poorly-timed purchase of modular stainless steel components for the vinyl-lined pools, which have been lying in storage for more than two years.
Measure M was a $95 million bond measure intended to fund classroom and facility construction and upgrades.