The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District (PRJUSD) Board of Trustees met for over five hours Tuesday evening after an hour long meeting in closed session. At the beginning of the meeting, the board received a live virtual report from Principal Kelly Ward of Kermit King Elementary School with recorded presentations by staff, students and parents.
The board heard several public comments phoned into the board and written letters which were read aloud by district staff. Several addressed the reopening of the school classrooms, which they felt should occur as soon as possible. Citizen Peter Byrne said the damage done to students by the shutdown is disturbing.
The board spent the bulk of the meeting discussing their response to the Grand Jury Report criticizing the previous school board during the administration of Superintendent Chris Williams in the years 2014-2018.
The board discussed elements of a draft report written by PRJUSD Board President Chris Arend. Several board members cited errors in the draft. They corrected some, but heated discussions arose over other elements. During a discussion of the $250,000 settlement paid to Chris Williams when he resigned, trustees began discussing the approval of the settlement by County Schools Superintendent James Brescia and his office. They blamed the SLOCE for approving the settlement. Suddenly, Dr. Brescia barged in the board room and angrily addressed the trustees. He said he did not want to give Chris Williams a dime, but wanted to remove him from office. Brescia abruptly left before the board finished their discussion of the settlement. In their report, the Grand Jury said there was nothing in Chris Williams employment contract that justified his receiving $250,000 when he resigned as superintendent. The Grand Jury criticized the board and the County Office of Education for awarding Williams the $250,000 pay out when he resigned. Later the board, “clawed back” the settlement to about half that amount, but the Grand Jury said there was no reason to pay Williams anything for resigning.
That issue and several others sparked questions about the accuracy of the draft by President Chris Arend. Dates were wrong. Trustee Tim Gearhart said he was not on the board at the time Arend listed him as a board member. Trustees also cited substantive errors in Arend’s draft response, which was prepared before the board had discussed all the elements of the Grand Jury Report. Arend wanted to hand deliver the response to the Grand Jury Report Wednesday, February 10th to the Judge Duffy, who is overseeing the Grand Jury investigation into the school district. Several trustees argued that it was not due until February 17th, and the board should correct typo’s and substantive errors in their response before it was mailed, as the Grand Jury requested. Ultimately, the board voted 4-3 to allow President Chris Arend to hand deliver the response to the Grand Jury Wednesday, errors or not. Chris Bausch, Dorian Baker and Jim Reed voted against the early hand delivery.
Chris Bausch said he felt “the rest of the Board had been pressured to sweep the Grand Jury Report under the rug. The Grand Jury’s Cautionary Tale seems to have fallen once again on deaf ears.”
The PRJUSD Board of Trustees response to the Grand Jury Report will also be forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office for their consideration. It will be up to the DA to decide whether or not to pursue criminal charges against former and current administrators, staff and board members.