Council, School Board Hash Out Details of Measure J Sales Tax Funding

Meeting highlights Council unfamiliarity with school district’s inner workings

Published : Tuesday, March 5, 2019 | 6:02 AM

Monday evening’s joint special meeting of the Pasadena City Council and the Board of Education – a deep dive into the details of the school board’s recommendations for how its share of Measure J revenue should be spent—was a lesson in contrast.

At times, it seemed as if the two bodies literally didn’t speak the same language.

“I’m never going to learn all those acronyms,” said Councilmember Margaret McAustin.

The joint meeting was planned as an in-depth discussion of the school district’s priorities for its anticipated yearly $7 million share in new sales tax monies, but as Councilmember Steve Madison remarked, “This is like one of those academic dreams we’ve all had where we’re in school, having a test that we haven’t studied for.”

At one point, Councilmember Andy Wilson asked Pasadena Unified Chief Business Officer Leslie Barnes, following a question regarding the funding of school nurses, “Could you translate that answer into English?”

Barnes said in her presentation that “fiscal solvency remains the District’s first priority. $10.1 million in budget reductions will be implemented throughout this year, and 2020. In addition, LACOE [the Los Angeles County Office of Education] has approved the District’s positive certification of its First Interim Report.”

Barnes noted that she anticipates that the same will be true of the Second Interim Report, which is due in May.

Deficit spending because of declining enrollment had caused the reserve funds to fall below the state’s requirement, she said.

“[The District] cannot reduce staff at the same rate as the reduction in students,” according to the presentation, adding that the decline in student population is district-wide, and not tied to a particular grade level.

School board members have previously cited the lack of affordable housing in Pasadena, and low birth rates, as being major factors in lower attendance numbers.

It’s “very difficult to maintain class size ratios,” Barnes said, “in a declining enrollment environment.”

Much of the subsequent discussion centered around the earlier decision that Measure J money cannot fund charter schools.

Councilmember Tyron Hampton, noting that he had “changed his mind,” asked the Council to consider including charter schools funding in upcoming fiscal years.

“I know we can’t do it this year, but I have received numerous emails asking about this,” he said.

(The Measure J ballot wording stated that new Measure J money was meant only for “public schools.”)

Said Tornek,  who wrote the measure, “To me, that meant, no charter schools. That was my intention.”

Tornek pointed out that the measure’s ballot argument also emphasized that the money was to be spent on PUSD schools.

“It was clear,” he said.

“This confusion (over funding) charter schools is antithetical to the measure’s intent,” Tornek told the meeting. “The Measure J money was meant to cover District money which has been taken away by Charter schools. Why would we now vote to fund them?”

Tornek continued, “The Council won’t be signing any MOUs with any unelected charter school officials.”

Tornek added, however, that if Pasadena Unified decides to fund charter schools, “I’ll respect that judgment.”

Hampton then addressed the scores of charter school supporters in the council chambers, and said that Community Development Block Grants and other revenue sources might still be available for charter schools.

Hampton also asked the school board members to include funds in their budget for property maintenance, saying that many campuses had “lost their curb appeal.”

Pasadena Unified Board Member Patrick Cahalan responded, “The fundamental problem is that there is not enough money,” adding, “We are looking for ways to deal with this.”

Following numerous testimonies from charter school supporters asking to be included in Measure J funding, Mayor Tornek reminded the meeting that the item is only for discussion, and the Council would take no action.

“There is lots of information for us to absorb and assimilate,” said Tornek.

Before moving on to other items, the meeting members did agree to formally agendize a proposal to create a long-term, standing committee for Measure J.

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