Pasadena Board of Education President Lays out the District’s Challenges

Pasadena Unified Board President Boulghourjian delivers a guardedly hopeful assessment of the District

Published : Wednesday, September 27, 2017 | 5:39 AM

Left to Right: Pasadena Unified Superintendent Brian McDonald and Pasadena Board of Education President Dr. Roy Boulghourjian

As a video feature on Carnegie Institute of Science highlighting its classes and programs in astronomy, chemistry, and computer coding, rolled on a large video screen, parents, faculty, staff and students made their way on Tuesday evening into the new gymnasium of Washington STEAM Magnet Academy, one of the latest school district projects constructed by Measure TT funds.

There, Dr. Roy Boulghourjian, current president of the Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education delivered the 2017 “State of the Schools” address, saying, “It’s no secret that Pasadena Unified is facing significant budget crisis this year,” caused by declining enrollments and rising health care and pension costs, among other factors.

The District is looking at an $5 million deficit in 2018 alone, and another $13 million over the next two years., officials have said.

Boulghourjian also made note of the fact that the District performed well in a state audit of its Measure TT spending last year.

Earlier in the evening, Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent Brian McDonald set a positive tone for the evening when he pointed out the fact that Pasadena Unified’s four comprehensive high schools — Blair, John Muir, Marshall, and Pasadena High — all made this years’ Washington Post list of “America’s Most Challenging High Schools.” McDonald told the audience that only 12 percent of high schools in America make the list and that these schools are creating opportunities for “average” high school students to take college-level courses and tests.

In addition, Pasadena Unified’s 2017 graduating students earned more than $8 million in scholarships and awards, winning admissions to UCLA, Duke, Stanford, Berkeley and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Pasadena’s nine academy schools are also preparing more than 4,000 students for careers in Law, engineering and the arts, said McDonald.

A number of Pasadena 7th-graders at the Pasadena Math Academy, also took and passed the AP Calculus, which is usually taken in the 10th or 11th grade, said McDonald.

Acknowledging the District’s budget difficulties, McDonald also told the audience that the PUSD is “changing the way we plan and budget, so that our students are ready for college, career and life’s challenges.”

Board of Education President Boulghourjian began his presentation with “hello” in Spanish, Farsi, Armenian, Hebrew, Tagalog, Italian and French, thereby pointing out the diverse, multi-cultural makeup of the District.

“No matter your culture, your country, your language, or the color of your skin, you are welcome here, and we love you.” Boulghourjian told the audience of Board members, staff , parents and students.

Boulghourjian lamented the fact that Pasadena Unified has some of the best schools in the country, but 45% of students in the city attend charter or private schools. Boulghourjian pointed out that that the perception for many is that, while Pasadena has created a number of programs to support and educate foster home children, English learner special needs students, it might have done less for more academically qualified students.

“We want to clarify that PUSD believes that all students have special needs,” said Boulghourjian. “High achievers, smarter, more privileged students are all just as important as the disadvantaged students.”

“Smart kids get attention in Pasadena schools, and lots of it,” continued Boulghourjian, reminding the audience of the successes of the District’s AP classes, international baccalaureate programs, full immersion schools, and STEM academies.

“Pasadena schools are rapidly becoming the first choice of parents seeking academic excellence, opportunities and diversity in programs and students,” said Boulghourjian. “Our schools are stronger, and our students are gaining admissions to elite colleges and universities.”

Returning to the budget issues, Boulghourjian said, “It is time for us to seize control of our own fiscal future and to strengthen the fiscal planning side of our district,” as he explained that in the coming semester, special PUSD teams will be exploring data on student achievement and root cause analysis and will engage PUSD staff, faculty and families in identifying strategies that support the instructional core based on three priorities that the PUSD Board recently identified.

Boulghourjian identified those priorities as “continuous improvement in academics and operations, increasing socio-economic integration which promotes stronger academic cognitive and emotional benefits for all students, and reducing the budget deficit for long-term stability.”

Outlining the various physical achievements and improvements throughout the district, Boulghourjian pointed out the new gymnasium all were gathered in for the evening. He also jokingly pointed out that he and a “few PUSD employees” were actually the first to play in the new gymnasium, seizing the opportunity just after the facility’s construction, prompting an inquiry from the school’s principal.

“Sorry, I’m guilty of that,” Boulghourjian smiled.

Boulghourjian also pointed out new improvements facilities at Altadena Elementary School, Eliot Middle School, Field Elementary School, Marshall High School, McKinley Elementary School, Roosevelt Elementary School, and Sierra Madre Middle School.

The PUSD board president also made special note of the fact that a state-mandated audit awarded PUSD Measure TT’s program the “highest possible rating for the fiscal year 2016.” The award is significant as the PUSD Board has been the subject of accusations of careless spending in its Measure TT program over the past year.

“We feel completely vindicated by this,” said Boulghourjian, “and we are thinking about applying for a new Board measure soon.”

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