Down to the Wire After Months of Budget Cutting, School Board Approves Required Fiscal Stability Plan

District reaches reduction goal, approves report on last day before submission

Published : Friday, December 14, 2018 | 5:37 AM

In dramatic fashion with two Board Members arriving late – one ill and the other delayed by a family member’s medical emergency – the Pasadena Unified School Board voted 5-2 Monday to approve a Fiscal Stability plan which achieves a State-mandated budget reserve and seems to avert the threat of a takeover by Los Angeles County.

That Plan, part of the District’s First Interim Report for the Los Angeles County Board of Education, cuts $10.1 million in expenses over this and the next two school years. Those cuts will allow for the maintenance of the required reserves.

Thursday’s meeting was the last possible day to finalize and approve the Report, which will be submitted to the County on Friday. It is due by December 17.

“This is the first step to the new day,” said Board President Lawrence Torres following the final vote, which unlike meetings over the past few months, took place in a relatively empty Board chamber, unlike previous meetings which were packed with anxious parents, teachers, and staff.

Board Members Patrick Cahalan and Scott Phelps arrived in mid-meeting.

Their late appearances came after the Board had already begun to discuss the Report and two Members, Kimberly Kenne and Michelle Richardson Bailey, had said they would not support it.

Bailey, who has consistently opposed the budget cuts and school closings, said, “I feel the way I feel, and I am standing up for what I believe in.”

This followed Kenne’s remark that, “All these assumptions and projections add up to more uncertainty, and [this is] an inaccurate signal to staff, site staff, and the Board, that everything’s okay.”

But Board Member Elizabeth Pomeroy urged the Board to approve the Report and to “look ahead” at its effect on the school community.

At that point, President Torres set the discussion aside until Phelps and Cahalan’s impending arrivals. The Board then discussed district property exchanges in the interim.

Following the district property exchange discussion, the Board resumed its budget conversation, but as Phelps said, following the vote, “There was no option except passing it.”

The last-minute approval is the culmination of months of special meetings to bring the District’s budget in line with the mandated 3% reserve in its appropriation budget, in each of the next three fiscal years. To do so would require $6.4 million in cuts, but then, unexpected increases in the cost of Special Education brought the amount to $10.1 million.

Getting to that goal required at least one school closing, and numerous teaching and support positions either eliminated or left unfilled.

Said Lueck in her report to the Board, “Based on available information and analyses completed by staff utilizing October 31, 2018 expenditure data and the incorporation of the Fiscal Stability Plan items approved by the Board of Education, the District is expected to meet the 3% reserve requirement in 2018-19, 2019-20, and 2020-21.”

Lueck’s report added that “The assumptions utilized in the multi-year projection do not include the Measure J sales tax revenues that are anticipated in 2019-20 and future years.” The overwhelmingly passed Measure I approved a .75 percent sales tax, with Measure J “advising” that one-third of the new revenue be shared with the school district.

The inclusion of the expected sales tax measure revenue next year continues to be a sticking point for both the Board and the City Council. Last month, the Board was informed by the County that it could not include those anticipated tax revenues in its budget plans, but last week, the council approved the formation of an ad hoc committee to decide how to distribute a recommended ? share of new tax revenues to the school district.

In recent discussions, however, the council has seemed reluctant to move the sharing process along, with one councilmember questioning the amount of the necessary reserve, and another saying, “The PUSD’s deadline is not our responsibility.”

According to the California Department of Education website, a district’s “positive” certification indicates that, based on current projections, the school district will meet its financial obligations for the current fiscal year and two subsequent fiscal years.

The District’s first interim report will be compared to adopted budgets. Second interim reports will be compared to first interim projections.

Ad Hoc committee meetings with selected Board Members and Pasadena City Councilmembers regarding Measure J tax revenue sharing are set to begin in January.

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