Guest Opinion | Addressing the Pasadena Unified School District Budget Deficit

Published : Monday, June 11, 2018 | 4:19 PM

[Editor's Note: Far-reaching events are unfolding which will shape the future of Pasadena's public schools. School Board Member Scott Phelps walks us through some of these issues in a series of Opinion pieces he has written to help the public better understand this very important moment in Pasadena Unified’s history, and the difficult decisions the District faces. This is the first in a series of three pieces by Phelps.]


As is well-known, PUSD is in the process of implementing a significant amount of reductions in its budget in order to show an ending balance for each of the next few years that is above the state-mandated 3% reserve so that its budget can change from a qualified certification to a positive certification. PUSD has made reductions already that will result in an ending balance for the coming 18-19 school year that is well above the 3% requirement.  It will need to make more reductions in the coming months to achieve a high enough ending balance for 19-20 and 20-21.

One area in which the board asked for reductions in its August 2017 budget reduction resolution is central staffing. When the superintendent assumed the reins in 14-15, in addition to his position there were 55 chiefs, deputy or associate or assistant superintendents, executive officers, directors, coordinators and teachers on special assignment assigned centrally.  To improve services, he raised that number to 62 in 15-16. It was 61 in 16-17 and 63 in 17-18. The superintendent did reduce that number through layoffs this spring (part of over $2 million in reductions in central staffing and services) and is further re-organizing his staff to lower that number. The current number for 18-19 is 58 but that includes four vacancies.  It is not likely that all four of those vacancies will be filled, so it will likely be lower than 58. The board will be discussing goals with the superintendent for budget reductions for the 19-20 school year in the coming weeks and months. While these reductions in central staffing costs are small compared to the size of PUSD’s budget challenges, this board member would like to see the central staffing number go down to at least the level it was at in 14-15 and further, for as enrollment declined by 366 from 14-15 to 17-18, the increase in central staffing while site staffing decreased through attrition and declining enrollment means we have been spending an increasing percentage of our budget on central staffing.  Most people would agree that is not optimal.

PUSD is also actively exploring ways to increase revenue.  For example, the Education Center is being considered for a property exchange to raise revenue. See the recent presentation from the May 24 board meeting for more information on this:  If the board of education does decide to exchange the Education Center with an income-producing property, moving PUSD’s main offices to a school site location would be required.  Staff is currently exploring options for that. This process of agreeing to a value for the Ed Center, selecting a desirable exchange property and finalizing an exchange would take about 18 months so there is time to plan for the relocation of the PUSD administrative offices. PUSD is also increasing revenues through income generated from leasing district properties, and our income from leases and rentals has increased from $3 million in 16-17 to $3.6 million in 17-18, with further increases anticipated for 18-19.

In the coming November election, the city of Pasadena will likely propose a sales tax measure that would benefit both the city and PUSD. Like the city of Pasadena and school districts across the state, Pasadena Unified is facing a combination of rising pension and health care costs and flat revenue, so this measure’s estimated $7 million in revenue for PUSD is very much needed.

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