Pasadena School Board Votes to Close Cleveland Elementary as Cost-Cutting Continues

Franklin Elementary and Wilson Middle School escape closure, for now

Published : Wednesday, October 31, 2018 | 4:36 AM

Following months of dodging slow-moving bullets with regard to the closing of district schools, the Pasadena Unified School District Board Tuesday voted 5-2 to “consolidate” Cleveland Elementary School, Jackie Robinson’s alma mater.

Cleveland students will finish out the 2018-19 school year at the same campus. They will have priority for placement for their school of choice in 2019-20 through a special lottery of Open Enrollment in a transition that is due to begin next school year, District spokesperson Hilda Ramirez Horvath said.

Cleveland Elementary was one of three schools slated for consolidation. The Board voted not to close Franklin Elementary or Wilson Middle School, but their fates have not yet been finalized.

The Board voted 5-2 to close Cleveland, 6-1 not to close Franklin, and unanimously not to close Wilson, whose community had lobbied hard over the past month to save their campus.

“These are agonizing decisions,” said Pasadena Unified Board President Lawrence Torres after the meeting. “No one gets elected to these [Board] positions to close a school.”

Torres blamed the District’s declining enrollment for the closure.

“It’s a reflection of our enrollment that we have to go through these exercises,” he said, “but we have to put the best interests of the children first, and help the entire district. These are difficult conversations, and they will be continuing until we hit the number that we need to hit to provide fiscal stability for the district.”

According to a Pasadena Unified report, closing Cleveland Elementary will save $306, 570 in the next fiscal year and a total of $613,140 through 2021.

The consolidation of Franklin and Wilson may return to the board again in the next two weeks, should the Board not be able to make enough budget reductions.

The School Board needs to increase its 2020-21 Ending Fund Balance Projection by $10.1 million in order to maintain a 3% emergency reserve, according to a report by Interim Chief Business Officer Eva Lueck. The Los Angeles County Office of Education has required these reductions for months and has told the Board that should it not reach an approved Financial Stabilization Plan by November 15, it is in danger of having a County Fiscal Adviser “with stay and rescind authority” named to take over the District.

Should this happen, the Board would no longer retain its decision-making authority who would manage the District’s finances without input or direction from the District.

The District’s Financial Stabilization Plan must then be finalized in order to be incorporated into the District’s First Interim Report, to be presented at the December 13, 2018, regular board meeting.

“Smaller schools cost us more to run,” acknowledged Board member Patrick Cahalan during the Board discussion. Cahalan had said earlier in the meeting he hoped that the Board could get to its budget reduction goals without “these three options,” meaning the school closings.

“Our decision should not be based on budget as much as ‘have we done a good job providing (school) services?’” he added.

Cahalan who voted against all three closings.

After the vote, he said “I’m disappointed, but we will do what we need to, moving forward. I’ve had lots of conversations with the people at Cleveland, and my wife and I have spent a lot of time there. We will do the best we can for them.”

Cahalan said he “accepted the reality that we have the capacity for twice as many students as we have, but I don’t think this is the right way to go about closing schools, and so I’m disappointed that we had this outcome.”

Board Member Michelle Bailey, echoing Cahalan’s comments, said, “I’m very disappointed. I think that we need to do more for making sure that there is equity with regard to programming, and so that students who want to, can walk to school and attend their local schools.”

Continued Bailey, “I do understand, that something needs to change so that the budget impact can be realized, but I want to make sure that we are not just closing schools that are convenient for us to close.”

The proposed closure of the three schools had riveted the three small communities. Each had unique traits, parents had argued. Wilson Middle School had an award-winning drum corps said its principal, Kyle Douglas, who actually assembled the group to play outside District headquarters during a recent board meeting.

One district parent, Tina Fredericks, had gone so far as to create a gofundme page hoping to raise $4.2 million to save the three threatened schools. The page raised $739 on its first day.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Fredericks, a Willard School parent.

“We’re going to keep going,” she said Thursday, after the vote. “I was just approached by a Franklin parent, and she said, ‘We could still use that money,’ because certain schools don’t get enough support from the District.”

The District will continue its budget negotiations on November 7, November 8, November 13, and November 15.

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