One Week Before Deadline, Pasadena School Board Keeps Cutting But Still is $4.6 Million Short of Required Target

Will future tax revenue from passage of Measures I and J make a difference now?

Published : Thursday, November 8, 2018 | 5:37 AM

Eva Lueck, Pasadena Unified School District's Interim Chief Budget Officer, at Wednesday night's special School Board meeting, November 7, 2018.

One day after an overwhelming election victory by two local sales tax measures potentially adding millions to its coffers annually, the financially beleaguered Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education sat down again Wednesday evening for more than four hours of new budget reductions.

The new sales tax measures — I and J — will impose a ¾ cent tax on purchases in the City and advises, with City Council approval, that a third of the new revenue, estimated to be $21 million yearly, be shared with Pasadena Unified.

“Seven million dollars would be helpful,” said School Board Member Kimberly Kenne, “but it might not fill the holes we’ve created.”

At Wednesday night’s meeting, the Board pared expenses an additional $1.9 million across a wide swath of budget items, from reductions in staffing to possible cuts in teacher testing and credentialing.

Over the past month in a barrage of cuts which includes the closing of Cleveland Elementary School the Board has managed to reduce the budget by $5.5 million through 2021.

The Board still must cut an additional $4.6 million before a self-imposed November 15 deadline for the final plan. The Board will submit a final plan to the  Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) December 15.

The Board needed to increase its 2020-21 Ending Fund Balance Projection by $10.1 million in order to maintain a 3% emergency reserve each year as required by law, according to a report by District Interim Chief Business Officer Eva Lueck.

LACOE has told the Board that should it not reach an approved Financial Stabilization Plan with that 3% reserve by December 15, Pasadena Unified would face a takeover by a County Fiscal Adviser “with stay and rescind authority.”

During the meeting, following a stalwart defense of elementary school music programs by Board Member Michelle Richardson Bailey, the Board declined to cut an arts coordinator as well as the entire music program for elementary schools.

“Music education is just as important as Science or Math,” said Bailey, who told the board she grew up in the PUSD music program.

Despite the number of cuts and reductions, the Board left alone, for now, hiring freezes for nurses, as well as the elimination of the Family and Community Engagement Center.

The Board also voted against eliminating the French Dual Language Immersion Program.

The Board, however, left open the possibility that some school campuses might still be closed—including Wilson Middle School, which survived an early round of cuts last week—but made no specific recommendations.

Turning its attention to the passage of the new sales tax measures, the Board was cautious in adding any of the new revenue to its calculations quite yet.

In order for the School District to take advantage of the new anticipated tax revenue, the sharing must first be approved by the City Council.

Board Member Patrick Cahalan said, during a break in the meeting that he has been in conversations with Mayor Terry Tornek, who told him recently, “We’re working on it.”

Cahalan also suggested that Superintendent Brian McDonald and Board President Lawrence Torres should contact the Mayor regarding “agendization” of the revenue sharing.

“We need to be able to hit the ground running with this,” said Cahalan.

Cahalan was cautiously optimistic that the Los Angeles County Office of Education would allow a certain percentage of the anticipated funds to be figured into the Board’s projections for at least the next fiscal year.

Lueck agreed, saying “I would be hard-pressed to see why they would not support it. There is a track record for the City’s tax revenue.”

Board President Torres noted that he would be having a “heart to heart” phone conference call Thursday with representatives of LACOE to suggest how the new revenues might be added to the Board’s calculations.

Following the round of budget cut decisions, Board member Kenne also suggested cuts in software programs, the elementary Chromebook leases, Superintendent staff funding and cuts to elementary science teachers.

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