Death From a Thousand Cuts: Pasadena Unified Plans Reductions in Athletics, Music, International Baccalaureate Program

Cuts would be in addition to possible campus closings

Published : Thursday, October 11, 2018 | 4:43 AM

As the Pasadena Unified School District Board prepares to meet tonight to discuss the possible closure of three schools, other possible budget reductions would hit Pasadena’s Blair High School particularly hard, including cuts to its International Baccalaureate IB program, the school’s instrumental music program, and perhaps the most impactful, the elimination of the school’s interscholastic athletic program.

“They would just play intramural,” explained PUSD Board Member Scott Phelps earlier this week. In other words, Blair students would compete against each other in sports, as opposed to traveling to other schools to compete.

Phelps said high school athletics is an expensive proposition which requires a full-time athletic director.

“There’s a lot of cost,” Phelps said.

Blair Athletic Director Ervin Turner took the long view of such a reduction, saying Thursday, “Being an old-school teacher, I kind of look at it being more about academics than sports.”

“If they’re academically sound, sports is an after-school thing that [students] can continue on in. But more importantly, you can join up for a sports team, but you’ve still got to maintain your academics,” Turner stressed.

Defending the school’s athletic programs, Blair IB faculty member Frances Nicholson told Pasadena Now in an email Thursday, “Fifty-one percent of our high school students are actively engaged in our competitive sports programs, through various teams. We also have the only Students Run Los Angeles (SRLA) program in the district, training for and running in the Los Angeles Marathon.”

Nicholson continued, “All our students have finished the race for, I believe, every year we’ve had the program. Our track team makes League finals virtually every year, and, when we can keep coaches (as the pay from PUSD is very low), our basketball program, soccer program, and girls volleyball program continue to grow. Our fledgling 8-man football program won games for the first time in forever, and is building from there.

Nicholson said Blair fields a boy’s water polo program as well, and a girl’s water polo team is now practicing to begin competition during the winter.

The school’s instrumental program is also worth defending, noted Nicholson.

“Our instrumental music program has received major grants from the Grammy Foundation and the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation among others” wrote Nicholson, “and has ranked high, even winning, the Southern California Forum Festival, an invitation-only event. People come to Blair specifically because of its strong instrumental program, and the teacher, Michael Birnbryer, is a professional musician with links to the local arts community.”

At Marshall Fundamental, where the school is fundraising for a new track, any talk of cuts is particularly frustrating.

Marshall parent Sylvia Salas said Thursday, “Parents were fundraising for that track. That should not be the responsibility of the parents. That should have been the school’s responsibility, their budget, paying for that maintenance. That should be part of maintenance on their budget, not us. But we’re already supporting and helping, and now you’re telling me they’re going to close now. There’s only so much parents can do to support them, so something has to give.”

Along with the sports program reductions, Phelps said a District arts coordinator and an arts program, along with four centrally funded arts teachers who travel and teach throughout the district, may all be eliminated.

But those cuts, which represent significant cost savings, noted Phelps, “will be hugely controversial because arts are supported in Pasadena.”

Much of what is driving the current school budget dilemma is the ever-decreasing school district attendance.

It’s something that Turner is seeing a lot more of these days.

“All you have to do is walk the neighborhoods and you see why there’s declining enrollment. Pasadena is pricing out the families,” he said.

Turner said it seems as if homes in Pasadena are being torn down and replaced by expensive condos. Many families can no longer afford to live here, he said.

Meanwhile, the LA County Office of Education has demanded that the District make sufficient cuts to restore and maintain the Reserve for Economic Uncertainties (REU) at the required level, and told the District leadership in a September 14, 2018 letter that it remains “concerned that the District continues to project an REU that is below the required level in 2019-20 and 2020-21.”

The letter also stated, ominously, “The County Office is prepared to take additional corrective action, should the District not fully address its structural deficit, and continue to project reserves that are below the state required minimum.”

The District’s 2018-19 Adopted Budget reflects declining enrollments with projected average daily attendance (ADA) of 15,721 in 2018-19, 15,564 in 2019-20 and 15,409 in 2020-21. The estimated impact represents a 2.0 percent decrease from the District’s 2018-19 ADA.

While the County office will continue to fund districts with declining enrollment in the first year, the District will lose State funding over time if the decline in enrollment continues, said the County.

“The District must carefully monitor its enrollment trends and adjust its financial projections accordingly,” the County office noted, “including related staffing adjustment, for the current and subsequent fiscal years if further material reductions in enrollment occur, or are expected to occur.”

“I get it,” said PUSD parent Laura Diaz. “I’m just really hoping that administrators take a little time to listen to parent’s voices as they make these decisions and that they continue to value parent engagement.”

The School Board is scheduled to meet today in closed session at 4 p.m. The public session will begin at 6 p.m.

The Board meets in the Elbie J. Hickambottom Board Room at 351 South Hudson Avenue in Pasadena.