City Council Tested by School District’s Fast-Approaching Deadline

Published : Tuesday, November 20, 2018 | 6:59 AM

Pasadena Unified School Board Member Patrick Cahalan addresses the Pasadena City Council on Monday, November 19, 2018.

[Updated] Rarely have the differences between the management styles of the Pasadena City Council and the Pasadena Unified School District Board been more apparent than at Monday night’s Council discussion of the District’s financial predicament and how the Council can help when implementing Measure J.

The Council’s typically ponderous and thorough approach is being tested by the District’s fast-approaching December 17 deadline with Los Angeles County to produce a satisfactory budget or submit to a fiscal takeover by the County.

“Their deadline,” Councilmember Steve Madison said Monday, “is not our responsibility.”

After months of budget cutting to close a $10.1 million gap and hit a state-mandated 3 percent reserve, the School Board last Thursday signaled it had achieved its goal.

But Pasadena City Manager Steve Mermell seemed unconvinced the District’s budget plans will pass muster by the County.

Mermell’s office concluded in a report submitted last week that the District “is unlikely” to produce a satisfactory budget plan for the County by the required date, “thus triggering intervention by LACOE (Los Angeles County Office of Education).”

For the discussion Monday, Mermell outlined a roadmap for City Council action to implement Measure J and to extend a multi-year agreement to advance the District funds against anticipated tax revenues, which could satisfy the County.

Councilmember Victor Gordo cautioned the Council against allowing the District to be taken over by LACOE.

“It would be very detrimental not only to the District but to the City itself,” said Gordo, adding that “the voters spoke loud and clear on this issue.”

Gordo added, “If we lose control of the District after this tremendous mandate from the voters, that would be a tremendous mistake for the council. Voters intended that we keep local control.”

The Councilmembers who were present — Gene Masuda and Margaret McAustin were absent  — asked numerous questions about the nature of the County’s fiscal demands and if the Council could be guaranteed it can take action which could prevent a County takeover.

Following the Council discussion, Pasadena Unified School Board Member Patrick Cahalan, speaking as a resident during the public comments portion of the meeting, ran through the history of the School Board’s recent cost-cutting for the Council.

“We are cutting things that kids need right now,” Cahalan told the Council.

Cahalan also assured the Council that the District would provide a full accounting of the revenue.

“I am not concerned that LACOE will take us over,” he said. “ We will do whatever is needed to avoid that. We have more [reduction] options, all of which are fairly disagreeable.”

“But,” Cahalan told the Council, “Should [the takeover] happen, you will be blamed.”

Finally, Cahalan stressed the overriding issue at hand.

“What LACOE wants is a promise from the Council, and a date, and an amount. What the PUSD wants is an agreement from the Council to show LACOE.”

After the meeting, Mayor Terry Tornek observed “it’s two different cultures, the Council and the School Board.” Tornek also said he was confident that a formal agreement between the City and the District would be worked out.

City staff planned to bring forward a recommendation to the City Council on December 3 based on Monday’s discussion.

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