Guest Opinion | Scott Phelps: Pasadena Unified School District Budget Update

Published : Tuesday, July 30, 2019 | 7:34 AM

[Updated] After two years of budget reductions of over $15 million, PUSD has recently offered its employee unions a raise so their families can better keep up with inflation and the district’s low-ranking salaries can be improved.  The raise consists of a one-time payment of 2% of their 18-19 salary and a 3% ongoing raise effective for 19-20 and beyond. The district will have to somehow reduce its expenditures by $4 million for the 2020-2021 budget (by $8 million for the 2021-2022 budget) in order to be able to give the raise and still maintain the state-required 3% reserve in its unrestricted budget.  The reason is that although the state’s 2019-20 unrestricted funding included a cost of living adjustment of 3.26% that increased PUSD’s funding by about $4.0 million, this was not enough to offset $1.9 million in mandatory increases to pension contributions, a loss of $5.6 million in revenue due to declining enrollment, and approximately $1 million in increased costs for employee health care. This means there was a net loss of about $5 million for PUSD’s 19-20 budget.

Thanks to the leadership of Mayor Tornek and the support of Pasadena voters in November 2018, Measure I’s increase in the sales tax revenue is providing $5 million for PUSD’s 2019-20 budget, which is a lifesaver that has allowed PUSD to exit from county monitoring. However that funding is primarily serving to shore up PUSD’s mandated reserve as one can tell from the increased costs described above.

To achieve the required reductions, PUSD staff have proposed the following for the 2020-21 budget effective July 1, 2020:

  • Laying off 10 teachers for the 2020-21 school year because of the anticipated 300 student enrollment decline during the coming year, a savings of about $1,000,000

  • Reducing contracted services by $500,000

  • Reducing materials and supplies expenditures by $500,000

  • Reducing custodial staffing costs by $900,000

  • Shifting custodial costs of $575,000 to restricted funding

  • Reducing warehouse staff and increasing rental rates to charter schools, $500,000

What about all the funds raised by the wonderful Pasadena Educational Foundation (PEF), you may ask?  PEF does raise millions of dollars which allows for a wide array of great programs, supplies, equipment and services to be offered to students and families, and for resources to be provided for teachers, all of which PUSD could not afford to offer. However this is restricted funding which can be used for only certain purposes specified by PEF’s generous donors or by the mandates of grants that PEF obtains on behalf of PUSD.  And to do the grant writing — and new this year, PEF will also provide a webmaster position for PUSD — PUSD pays PEF $150,000 in unrestricted funds annually. (In addition, PEF receives about $97,000 in funding from the grants themselves, for various services provided to PUSD.) PUSD forgoes another approximately $82,000 in unrestricted revenue that it could charge to the grants and gifts, because PEF already charges a fee on each grant. So even the large and wonderful grants and gifts that PUSD has received because of PEF’s efforts cost a significant amount of unrestricted funds.  And these large amounts of restricted funds raised by PEF do not fundamentally change PUSD’s budget situation, as the county and state mandates that PUSD is under are for sufficient reserves of unrestricted funds only.

The need for sufficient unrestricted funding will likely become urgent in the coming months as the teachers’ union has refused the above raise and is seeking two additional 3 % raises in 2020-21 and 2021-22.  After the negotiating teams meet with a state mediator in the fall, a strike is possible if the two sides do not come to a mutual agreement. Certain folks may begin advocating for a strike even before then. However, we hope that cooler heads will prevail.

If the reader would like to reduce the need for more reductions and provide the raises needed to have more competitive salaries—and help raise the funds to avoid a strike, the district will gladly accept contributions of funds. Parents and the general public have consistently indicated that they greatly appreciate and support teachers and other school site staff, so feel free to act on that appreciation and support!  Checks can be made payable to the Pasadena Unified School District and mailed to 351 S. Hudson Ave., Pasadena, CA 91109. Contributions to the Pasadena Unified School District are tax-deductible.

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