Faced with shrinking attendance budget woes, Consolidation Committee recommends closing Wilson Middle School, Blair High School, Jefferson Elementary, Cleveland Elementary, and Franklin Elementary, beginning in 2019-20 school year
Published : Friday, March 16, 2018 | 5:37 AM
Though final decisions are expected to be months away, dozens of local parents packed the Pasadena Unified School District Board meeting room and hallways Thursday to protest a committee recommendation to close five District schools.
The Superintendent School Consolidation and Boundary Committee recommended “consolidating,” or closing, Wilson Middle School, Blair High School, Jefferson Elementary, Cleveland Elementary, and Franklin Elementary beginning in the 2019-2020 school year.
District spokesperson Hilda Ramirez Horvath said Thursday a final decision on any school closures or consolidations could take six months or more.
Like many school districts in California and nationwide, enrollment in Pasadena Unified schools has been steadily declining, which in turn reduces state funding—which is based on attendance.
“There are fewer school-age children,” said Board Member Kimberly Kenne during the Board discussion. “There are fewer students. What do we want to give them?”
Taking a longer view, Board Member Patrick Cahalan said, “This Board has to come down on the question of neighborhood schools versus open schools.”
As Cahalan noted, schools once slated for consolidation, but then provided with special programs such as Dual Language Immersion, thrive, and often become more popular than local neighborhood schools. With open enrollment, those schools can become too popular, leaving neighborhood schools wanting for students.
A key component of the Consolidation Committee’s report was an online survey of District parents.
“The committee requested an online survey which was administered by Cooperative Strategies, and a total of 1,415 responses were collected over a period of 10 weeks.
“Overall,” said the recommendation, “the responses to the surveys were what the committee expected, but there was a moderate level of support for consolidation, which did exceed the committee’s expectations.”
Scott Leopold of Cooperative Strategies told the Board that the survey comments, which took up nearly a dozen pages in its report, ranged from “Please don’t close our school,” to “Close our school, for the love of Pete!”
The closures are under consideration because of shrinking enrollment, shrinking state funding, and increasing costs (largely pension expenses).
According to a recent article by Board Member Scott Phelps, Pasadena Unified’s state funding funding fell over the last two years from $192,201,544 to $191,638,837, a decline of $562,707.
“This is unusual,” he said, “as state funding must increase about 4-5 percent a year to keep up with costs that increase each year that have their origin in inflation. These include annual increases in salary that are built in to collective bargaining agreements, increased health care market costs, increased costs of special education service providers such as nonpublic schools and agencies who serve our neediest children.”
None of this seemed to matter to District parents at last night’s meeting, who implored the Board, some tearfully, not to close their schools.
“What am I going to do? Where will my child go?,” said one mother of an autistic child, who had recently found a middle school program with which she is pleased.
“How is closing schools going to help anything?” she asked the Board.
As parent Sonia Guerrero told the board, “We are very concerned about the possibility of Franklin closing. We are filled with anxiety and we are scared. Please save our little neighborhood school.”
Resident Bob Snodgrass had another approach, telling the Board that Cleveland needs a program “to make us be special.” Snodgrass said that he had talked to a number of people who would be willing to contribute financially to created a special program of some kind at the school.
“2019 is not enough time,” he told the Board, pleading for time. “We have people who say they will give.”
Felita Kealing, another Pasadena Unified parent, told the board to “think about culture,” as opposed to programs, explaining that schools like Marshall Fundamental have a culture, and “culture eats strategy for lunch.”
The Consolidation Committee finalized its package of individual recommendations—including school closures—at its final meeting, but noted that the recommendations “are not dependent on each other.”
Explained the report, “This means that any one of the recommendations can be taken a la carte, or all them can be taken together.”
The recommendation concluded: The Consolidation Committee “strongly urges the Superintendent, executive staff, and the School Board to seriously consider implementing these recommendations to the greatest extent possible.”