City Council May Attach Conditions to Pasadena Unified School District Measure J Funding

Published : Thursday, November 8, 2018 | 5:41 AM

The passage of Measures I and J on Tuesday could bring as much as $7 million per year to the cash-strapped Pasadena Unified School District, but city officials have yet to establish a process for exactly how that will happen, and when.

Measure I raises the city’s sales tax by three-quarter percent, and Measure J advises that a third of the new revenue go to the Pasadena Unified School District. The voters approved them by margins of 68 percent and 70 percent, respectively.

But Measure J is advisory only, and the City Council maintains ultimate authority over the expected new funds. And while the Council has pledged to follow through with the advisory, Councilmembers said they first want to set up a process to make sure the public’s money is well spent.

Meanwhile Pasadena Unified is under mandate to cut millions of dollars from its budget in the coming years to meet a state-required 3 percent budget reserve under threat of county takeover.

“We’ll come back to the Council and have a conversation about this very soon,” Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek said. “I think different Councilmembers have different perspectives on this, but I think the voter mandate was pretty clear. You don’t get to 70 percent very often.”

City officials will work closely with the School Board in crafting a plan to move forward, he said.

There is time to sort it out, as money from the new tax increase won’t start appearing in city coffers for at least six months, Tornek added. “But we need to begin to have this discussion so that we understand what the roadmap is.”

“The people of Pasadena, at least the people who voted (Tuesday), share the opinion that we need to do what we can to help improve the condition of the public schools. And so I’m fully determined to try to make that happen now,” he said.

Councilmember Tyron Hampton also said he planned to fulfill the public mandate to fund the PUSD.

“But, of course, it would come with a stipulation that we have to make sure that the school district is financially stable,” he said.

One possibility would be setting up a special reserve account on behalf of the district, Hampton said. He added that he would like to see Pasadena Unified maintain double the 3 percent budget reserve required by state law.

“But mainly, my main focus is making sure that the school district is safe from being taken over by the County,” Hampton said. “That’s why you see the overwhelming support for that measure: Because the voters did not want the County to come in and take over our school district.”

Councilmember Margaret McAustin said she, too, intended to carry out the will of the voters in Measure J. But it must be done thoughtfully, she said.

“The Council hasn’t yet had an opportunity to discuss how the financial support may be given and what oversight the City may maintain over those funds,” she said. “The PUSD’s financial situation is dire, and I want to make sure the monies are put to the best possible use and that we have accountability for those funds.”

“The PUSD does not have a strong record of financial management, and as a City Council member I am responsible to ensure funds collected by the city are put to the best use,” McAustin added. “The City must have some oversight and decision making over the use of the funds.”

The first step is gathering information, she said. “The City needs to know more about the financial workings of the PUSD and any impending County actions to assert control over the PUSD. The election was only yesterday so it will take a little time to sort things out.”

The Council should keep close tabs on the Measure J funds, Councilman Gene Masuda said.

“There should be some strict oversight for these transfer of funds because ultimately these funds belong to the residents of Pasadena,” he said.

Masuda added that since Measure J is advisory, the amount of money ultimately allocated to the PUSD may differ from the third of the collected tax revenue specified in Measure J.

“There is no set amount to be transferred but a limit of no more than one-third of the sales tax increase.”

Masuda said he would also like to see the Pasadena Unified maintain more than the minimum required level of budget reserves.

“This way, the County will not take over PUSD,” he said. “I would also require that the funds not be spent for any past or current retirement related expenses.”

The passage of the Measure does not mean an instant end to the PUSD’s budget woes, the mayor said.

“It’s a lot of money, $7 million dollars a year, but it’s not magic,” he said. “I mean, their budget is over $200 million a year.”

“These are all stopgaps working against a much larger problem, which is the way public education is financed in California. I mean those are questions that need to be addressed to our new governor, but we will continue to work,” Tornek said.

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