Pasadena School Board Will Consider Closing 3 Schools

District faces wave of new cuts as unexpectedly lower attendance numbers explode spike budget reductions from $4.1 million to $10.1 million

Published : Wednesday, October 10, 2018 | 5:04 AM

On a Friday afternoon last March, Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent Brian McDonald said in an email to the PUSD community that the Board of Education would “indefinitely” postpone exploring any school closures to save money.

“Indefinitely” could arrive this Thursday.

The School Board will look that evening at a money-saving plan to close three Pasadena Unified schools—Cleveland, Franklin, and Wilson Middle School.

The recommendation is part of a plan from Interim Chief of Business Eva Lueck to cut $10.1 million in costs to maintain the District’s reserve fund, as ordered by the Los Angeles County Office of Education last spring.

The announcement of the recommendation Tuesday caught local parents by surprise. A group of Wilson Middle School parents plan a parents meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to plan a rally to save their school, according to several involved parents.

The District is facing an unexpected estimated drop of 500 students in the current school year. The loss of State funds related to the smaller number of students has pushed the District’s budget reduction target up to the $10.1 million figure.

As Board member Scott Phelps told Pasadena Now in an interview Tuesday, that cost pressure is the most pressing issue facing the District at the moment.

“It’s LCF, the local control funding formula,” Phelps explained.

“That means revenue you get (from the State) based on enrollment,” he said. “The attendance is 95 percent of enrollment. When we opened school for this year, there was a greater decline in enrollment than we anticipated.”

According to Lueck’s report, the lower attendance numbers translate into $2.7 million less in revenue for the school years 2019 and 2020.

“This is serious,” said Phelps. “We now need $10.1 million. In this discussion, which we had recently, we thought it was $4.1 million, it’s now looking like $10.1 million in reductions for 2020 to 2021. The fact is, that’s a negative balance…That means you don’t have any more money. It doesn’t mean you’re below your reserve. It’s worse than that.”

Said Phelps, “That means, eliminate some high-level administrators in the central office.”

Consolidating the three schools would save an estimated $2,316,592, along with a $100,000 one-time transition cost, Lueck said.

The District would also realign and restructure its warehouse program, which is responsible for storing and delivering school books to the District’s campuses.

According to Lueck’s report, the District originally found itself in August with a remaining reduction target of $4.1 million in order to achieve a 3% budget reduction, as Phelps noted.

“The packet the Board is receiving Thursday reflects an initial list of options that will expand throughout (this) budget process,” said Lueck in her report.

Lueck also added that the reductions do not include “the positive impacts we anticipate from our student attendance campaign, the focus on the filing of free and reduced lunch applications, the potential reserve generated through the property exchange, or the revenue that would be generated should measures I and J pass, and the City shares those revenues.”

Back in March, McDonald had also mentioned other revenue-generating possibilities the District needs to explore further, primarily related to what he described as the District’s “valuable real estate holdings,” which could avert the need to close schools.

Along with school consolidations, according to the staff report, other cuts being considered are instructors in the District’s successful International Baccalaureate, along with the District’s program for homeless families.

Previously headquartered in the District’s center on Hudson and Del Mar, the center has been moved to the Madison Elementary Healthy Start Center.

“That’s a coordinator and two other positions,” explained Phelps, “and some other funding because it adds up quite a bit. Family and community engagement staff who work with volunteers mostly.”

Pasadena Unified could also place a hiring freeze on nurses, said Phelps, moving through the budget.

The District’s current United Teachers Pasadena contract states that nurses may only be reduced through attrition.

“Every time one retires, we would save $180,000,” said Phelps.

But they have to retire, they cannot be released by the District.

Phelps anticipates an emotional meeting on Thursday.

Still, he said he expects at least one school will actually end up being closed for next Fall’s school year.

“There’s going to be a lot of pushback. There’s going to be a lot of community members, even City Councilmembers who will say, ‘No, no, don’t close schools.’”

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