Opinion » Shredder

Ethics schmethics

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What does it take for a school district to save $2 million and not abide by the language laid out in a bond measure that voters passed to update campuses and facilities?

Musical chairs, but with hundreds of students, teachers, parents, and all of the equipment, books, and accessories that come with them. Fun!

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It's not fun. Paso Robles Joint Union School District is playing a giant game of musical elementary schools, and it is very complicated. We're talking about three campuses, two schools, and more than 1,000 students—Georgia Brown and Glen Speck elementary schools. Speck students have been attending school at a temporary site for three years now while their campus gets a makeover, and Georgia Brown was in danger of shutting down entirely. With me so far?

Good. If I lose you, I'll catch you in the second half of the column.

Georgia Brown made it through intact! Kind of. And Speck is only going to have to move two more times before it settles in a final location that's different from where it started! Phew.

The campus Georgia Brown is currently inhabiting is also going to get a makeover. While that's happening, the current students, teachers, faculty, and what have you will move to the temporary site that Speck is currently using—but they can't do that until Speck's old school site is done with renovations, so Speck can move back into its new-old digs. Then, after the current Georgia Brown site is finished with construction, Speck is moving to that spot permanently, because it won't be large enough to accommodate for Georgia Brown's student population. And Georgia Brown will takeover the new-old Speck site. Got it?

No? Don't feel bad. The Paso Robles school district staff and board had trouble keeping everything straight during the Feb. 15 meeting where everything was set in motion.

"There was some point in the meeting where even [district Chief Business Officer] Brad [Pawlowski] got confused, and members of the board were getting confused. That's how you know this decision is very very confusing. This decision was made overly difficult and confusing and that's a problem," Paso People's Action co-founder Yessenia Echevarria said.

A morass, if you will. Overcomplicated with an overabundance of moves for schools that serve more than 1,000 students—all so the district could save $2 million to possibly put in a pool.

Do you think you could put in a pool for $20,000? I bet you could put in half a pool.

I'm not sure whether Cayucos Elementary and Cambria Unified school districts Superintendent Scott Smith is going to put in a pool, but seems like he's taking his money and running. He announced his retirement after receiving an off-salary-schedule and very controversial 10 percent raise from the respective school boards he serves, bringing his departing salary (aka his retirement and pension fund starter pack) to $220,085 a mere four months before he takes his leave.

Sounds fishy, yes?

Yes indeed.

"I want to thank the trustees for their recent vote of confidence and pay increase," Shady Smithy wrote in a message shared to ParentSquare. "Despite their best efforts to get me to delay my retirement a little longer, I intend to submit my retirement notice."

Oh, really? Thanks for the money but no thanks for the job. I'm out and I'm taking my $20,000 raise with me! Suckers! I guess he no longer feels like getting "paid to help kids," which is what he said was one of the inspirations behind his career in education, according to the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education.

"I think I became a superintendent because I wanted to be part of the solution for whatever ails the organization so we can better serve students," he said on the county education office's "getting to know: Scott Smith" page. "My ongoing overarching goal is always to leave things in better shape than when I found them."

Some parents think their super is definitely part of the problem—not the solution. They're also pointing fingers at trustee Chris Castillo—who apparently recommended the giant pay increase for his bosom buddy in December—for being a little too cozy with Smith.

"Who brought the raise forward?" district parent Roberta Held asked. "With Chris and Scott being longtime friends, is it appropriate for him to have been serving on the board at all with that relationship?"

Ooh. Good questions. Well, it's an elected body, so you all gave Castillo "appropriate" permission to serve on the board. This is more of a question of ethics, which seem to be in short supply over there!

Guess where ethics are plentiful? Arroyo Grande, where four out of five City Council members recused themselves from a discussion over accessory dwelling units (ADUs) due to conflicts of interest. The only one left sitting was City Councilmember Jimmy Paulding, who, as much as he might like to, couldn't make a decision on city policy all by his lonesome.

Mayor Caren Ray Russom owns a secondary dwelling unit and Councilmembers Lan George and Keith Storton are constructing ADUs. But here's the kicker: "Councilmember [Kristen] Barneich will be paid $1,500 for designing Councilmember George's ADUs," City Attorney Timothy Carmel said at the meeting.

Arroyo Grande feels just as cozy as Cayucos. But, hey, three cheers for transparency? Δ

The Shredder is as transparent as Arroyo Grande. Send thoughts to shredder@newtimesslo.com.

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