Parents Told To Prepare Children for School Closings

District Board Members face tough questions in first of two Town Hall community meetings

Published : Friday, October 18, 2019 | 4:42 AM

“Prepare your children for what will happen next,” Pasadena Unified School District Board Member Michelle Richardson-Bailey told a large Pasadena High School audience at a District Town Hall Meeting Thursday.

“It’s going to happen, but you can lessen the impact on them if you prepare them,” Richardson-Bailey continued.

The District Special Meeting was held to discuss middle and high school closures and consolidations. The meeting was moderated by representatives from the League of Women Voters.

Richardson-Bailey, who said last year she was against the closing of any schools, appeared as resigned to school closures as all of the other PUSD Board members, who are now faced with one closure option for District high schools and five options for middle schools.

Richardson-Bailey lamented her belief that “the students who will be the most impacted are the ones who need the most help.”

Board Member Patrick Cahalan agreed, noting, “The decisions we make will impact the poor students more than the rich students. There is nothing we can do about it.”

The Town Hall meeting, the first of two planned, was designed to allow for more community input before a District closure vote on October 24.

Said Board President Lawrence Torres before the meeting, “We’re hoping that this is a way for us to continue the conversation about school consolidation. We wanted to get input from the community about [their] concerns and ideas, and to lay out our case.”

The District has seen a steady decrease in attendance since at least 2012, with attendance dropping from 18,000-plus in 2012, to about 16,000 in 2019. District projections indicate that the school district could stabilize at just over 14,000 in the 2025-26 school year.

“The District’s attendance figures have been steadily declining, reflecting national and statewide demographic trends, local housing prices, and competition with private and charter schools,” said a report from the School Consolidation Study Committee, back in October 21, 2010.

Many of the questions from parents were about the impact of closures on low-income students in the District, primarily in Northwest Pasadena, where a number of Latino students attend school.

“We did not consider race or ethnicity in our decisions,” said Richardson-Bailey. “Other ethnicities are being impacted as well. We did not consider race in our decisions.”

Parents also asked why charter schools are allowed to use surplus PUSD properties. Cahalan explained that State law mandates that qualified charter schools be allowed to lease school properties. Cahalan also said that he didn’t know of any charter middle or high schools that have applied to use any PUSD properties.

Richardson-Bailey said that she is supporting SB 1413, which would allow the conversion of surplus school properties as housing for District employees.

Asked whether any busing would be included in any of the consolidation plans, Pasadena Unified Superintendent McDonald said it was “too early to make that determination.”

McDonald also said in answer to a query, that the District is not considering a four-day school week, as other districts nationwide have done.

“I don’t know that that is something we would consider,” he said.

The Board was also asked what would happen if the school closings do not produce enough budget savings. While the question was not answered directly, Richardson-Bailey told the audience not to take their students out of the District.

“If you leave, it will only be worse,” she said.

McDonald also noted that the District now competes for students with approximately 57 private and non-profit charters schools District-wide.

“We need to improve the District so that parents will want to send their children here,” he added.

According to the District’s presentation Thursday evening, each student loss represents a revenue loss of approximately $10,100, representing a total revenue loss of $17.3 million over the next 6 years.

The District has been fighting a budget battle over the last three years, and its current budget contains $4 million in reductions for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

Five million dollars in Measure J revenue has been used to backfill lost revenue due to declining enrollment and to preserve signature programs and arts and music programs without reductions.

Additional budget reductions will be necessary to offset anticipated declining enrollment through 2024-25, according to the presentation.

The PUSD Master Plan/Boundary Subcommittee introduced a number of options for the Districts’ middle schools and high schools on October 7. The High School 1 Plan would keep all four high schools open with current grade levels. The High School 2 Plan would keep three high schools, Blair, Muir, and Pasadena High School, and close Marshall 9-12.

The Middle School 1 plan would keep four stand-alone middle schools—Eliot, Sierra Madre, Washington, and Wilson, and close McKinley 6-8, Blair 6-8, and Marshall 6-8.

The Middle School 2 plan would add Blair 6-8 to the list of stand-alone middle schools.

The Middle School 3 Plan would keep three stand-alone middle schools—Eliot, Washington, Wilson and Blair 6-12, and close McKinley 6-8, Marshall 6-8, and Sierra Madre Middle School.

The Middle School 4 Plan would keep three stand-alone middle schools: Eliot, Washington, Sierra Madre Middle, and Blair 6-12, Marshall 6-12, and close McKinley 6-8 and Wilson 6-8. The Middle School 5 plan would close Wilson Middle School.

Said Torres, near the close of the meeting, “Ultimately, we want the plan that will cause the least disruption.”

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