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Paso Robles school district responds to grand jury investigation

Courtesy of the PRUSD
The Paso Robles Unified School District Board of Trustees met for four hours over the weekend to craft a response to the SLO County Grand Jury report.

Paso Robles school district officials are hiring new attorneys to respond to a grand jury report that criticizes the previous board for alleged financial mismanagement between 2015 and 2018. 

This is the second time since 2012 the Paso Robles Unified School District has found itself under investigation by the San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury.

The report, titled "Paso Robles School District: A Cautionary Tale," outlines failures in leadership and financial oversight.

In a 5-to-1 vote, the board agreed to spend $5,000 to hire outside legal counsel to respond to the report’s findings.

Board member Nathan Williams said legal counsel not connected to the school district is needed to remain unbiased. 

I’m not happy about the $5,000, I don’t like that," Williams said. "However, I think it’s one of those evil necessities in this situation.”

The board spent about four hours in a recent special meeting discussing the reports findings, and writing a draft response to the grand jury, required by mid-February.

One of the more serious findings was when the board at the time agreed to pay more than $200,000 in severance to former Superintendent Chris Williams when he resigned.

The grand jury wrote, “The superintendent was not eligible for a severance package when he resigned. However, the board extended a negotiated settlement without obligation to do so.”

Current board member—and a member during the time in question—Tim Gearhart said that wasn’t the board's fault, as the board was under the impression from legal advice that they had to pay severance.

“We were given bad advice as evidence by the attorney who refunded his fee to the district when requested," Gearhart said.

Former board member Joel Peterson is one of two to call into the meeting to defend the actions of the previous board.

"Yes, there were certainly missteps and actions that need to be corrected," Peterson said. "But there are heroes in this who helped figure out budgets, schedules, contracts to help solve these challenges.”

The board will continue to go through the grand jury's findings and plans to discuss them point-by-point during this Tuesday's public meeting.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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