Opinion | Pasadena Ballot Measures I and J: A Unique Opportunity to Protect and Strengthen Our Community and Our Public Schools

Published : Sunday, October 28, 2018 | 2:24 PM

These measures, if passed by voters, will 1) generate revenue of about $21 million a year by increasing the sales tax in Pasadena from 9.5% to 10.25% and 2) advise the City Council to pass one-third of that revenue – about $7 million a year – to the Pasadena Unified School District.

A few thoughts:

Use it or lose it: As we see it, the question isn’t ‘do we want Pasadena’s sales tax to go up?’, but rather ‘when Pasadena’s sales tax goes up, who will get the money?’ Under California law, no community’s sales tax can exceed 10.25%. If we don’t pass Measure I and increase the sales tax in Pasadena, we can be sure the County or another government entity soon will and if history is a guide, we can be sure Pasadena will see little of that money. (For example, in 2017 the County passed Measure H to help address homelessness. That measure generates $7 million a year in Pasadena, but of that Pasadena receives less than $750,000!). So let’s be sure we pass Measure I, capture that last available 0.75%, and keep 100% of the proceeds – about $21 million each year – right here in our own community.

Pasadena’s financial need is real: Without these funds Pasadena faces cuts in services that could affect our quality of life. For example, currently there is no funding to upgrade our aging, seismically unsafe fire stations. In a major emergency – just when we need our fire and paramedic services the most – earthquake damage could put one or more of our emergency units out of operation.

The PUSD’s financial need is also real: Our School District is facing a genuine financial emergency. Like other school districts in California, the PUSD faces two big trends beyond its control: shrinking support from the State and rapidly rising costs driven by State and Federal mandates requiring the PUSD to pay a much higher share of increasing pension costs and costs of educating children with special mental or physical needs. At the same time, the PUSD, also like many other districts in California, faces declining enrollment (which reduces funding from Sacramento) due almost entirely to the shrinking local pool of school-aged children. Birthrates have fallen, so families are smaller, but the main problem is the high and rising cost of housing, which makes it harder and harder for families with school-age children to live in our community. The good news: fewer students are leaving PUSD after 6th grade (a traditional exit point for private schools), and specialized PUSD programs are attracting students from outside the district. (Last year, for example, only 169 petitioned to leave the PUSD, while 365 students petitioned to enter.)

  • Despite the challenges, our public schools are performing quite well, much better, in fact, than many realize:
  • Test scores are up: in just the last three years math scores have risen 6% and English scores have risen 9%.
  • Drop-out rates are falling, and graduation rates are at a record high – almost 87%.
  • Career academies and specialized academic programs that focus on science, technology, art and international languages are flourishing. As noted above, our public schools are attracting hundreds of new students from outside our district.
  • Students graduating from PUSD this year have been accepted by the nation’s most prestigious colleges and universities: Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Brown, Penn, Duke, Georgetown, Chicago, Northwestern, Caltech, Juilliard, MIT, Pomona, Occidental, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, USC and more.

The bottom line on Measure J: The School Board has acted responsibly by continuing to make difficult decisions to balance the budget without jeopardizing academic progress. Nevertheless, after cutting administrators, closing schools, laying off teachers and staff, working to maximize income by capturing attendance and free and reduced lunch potential, and by working to maximize income from District properties, PUSD is still in financial distress. That’s why Measures I and J are really important. They’ll provide stable local funding to protect and strengthen our public schools.

Our community is extraordinarily rich in resources – human, institutional and financial. The PUSD is small, manageable, adaptable, with committed, talented people at all levels.

When our community is fully behind them, our public schools will once again be among the nation’s very best – schools we’ll all be proud of.

To be a great community, we must have a great public school system.

Vote YES on BOTH Measures I and J!

 

George Brumder is Board Member and former President of the Pasadena Educational Foundation

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