Pasadena Unified Board: Cost-Cutting Target Reached For Now, No More School Closures

Board will not close more schools, will freeze vacant positions, and will attempt re-negotiate laptop lease contract; will also cut International Baccalaureate staff

Published : Friday, November 16, 2018 | 6:13 AM

School Board President Lawrence Torres (left), Board Member Patrick Cahalan (middle) and Board Member Scott Phelps (right) pictured at the Board of Education meeting on November 15, 2018. Photo for Pasadena Now by Eddie Rivera.

The Pasadena Unified School District Board Thursday concluded it has achieved its $10.1 million, two-year budget-shrinking goal without needing to close any more school campuses – and has seemingly sidestepped the possibility of a fiscal take over by the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

But more cuts still may need to be made before the County deadline, several Board Members said.

Los Angeles County has demanded that Pasadena Unified reach the target of a state-mandated 3% budget reserve for the next two fiscal years in its First Interim Budget due December 17, or risk County intervention.

The Board made a final $1.55 million in cuts at last night’s meeting to hit the target.

A major chunk — $1 million — of the final cuts came from the Board’s decision to renegotiate the District’s Google Chromebook computers lease agreement. Should the Chromebook vendor not agree to a new contract, the Board will need to look at other reductions.

Meanwhile, the budget cutting required to maintain that reserve requirement continues to fluctuate, even as the Board wraps up weeks of special budget reduction meetings.

Updated reports indicate Special Education costs may be increasing and the number of “unduplicated” students decreasing, both of which could push the Board’s cost reduction requirements even higher.

In addition to renegotiating the computer deal, the Board approved freezing vacant positions and eliminating a vacant data clerk position.

The Board also approved eliminating an International Baccalaureate coordinator position and replacing it with a full-time-equivalent Teacher on Special Assignment position.

Both Board President Lawrence Torres and Board Member Scott Phelps emphasized that they would not be discussing any school closures this year, even if more cuts are necessitated. PUSD has closed seven school campuses in the last 13 years.

Interim Chief Business Officer Eva Lueck also told the board Thursday, before they began their discussion, that because of fluctuations in the numbers of “unduplicated” students (English learners, low income or free or reduced-price meal students, or foster youth—who are counted only once by the state, even if the pupil meets more than one of these criteria), the Board could possibly be looking at an increase of $1.1 million in necessary cuts.

The Board agreed to focus only on the original $10.1 million reduction target, however.

Also the Board, as in previous meetings, did not consider the possible new sales tax revenue from Measures I and J in its calculations. Pasadena voters recently overwhelmingly passed the pair of sales tax Measures that could bring in $7 million a year to the District.

In a City staff report issued Thursday, Pasadena City Manager Steve Mermell, addressed the question as to how, when and if the Pasadena Unified can expect to receive any funds based on the new revenue.

Explained Mermell, “The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) is expected to begin collecting the tax and those passed by other jurisdictions from the November 6th elections, on April 1st, 2019. The City can expect to start receiving the tax proceeds in July, 2019. The City receives payments from CDTFA on a monthly basis, with two months of estimated advances, followed by a ‘true-up’ quarterly.”

Mermell continued, “Budgetary issues currently facing the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) necessitate an early discussion regarding this matter.”

Mermell also noted the possible increases in Special Education costs, adding, “Based on current projections, unless even further actions are taken, the District is unlikely to evidence a 3% reserve for fiscal year 2020-2021 by the time it submits its fiscal plan which is required by December 17th, thus triggering intervention by LACOE [the Los Angeles County Office of Education]. “

“Assuming the City Council is desirous of assisting the District maintain local control,” continued Mermell, “one way to attempt to satisfy LACOE, while minimizing risk to the City’s General Fund, would be to enter into a multi-year agreement which would set forth the terms of revenue-sharing consistent with the intent of Measure J”

The City Council will discuss the revenue-sharing issue in its upcoming meeting Monday, November 19. According to the staff report, City staff intends to forward a recommendation to the City Council on December 3.

Pasadena Unified will continue to adjust final cuts and projections prior to submitting its final fiscal stabilization plan to the County next month.

But, said Phelps, “It doesn’t take a month to update the accounting and prepare (our) First Interim (report) for approval and submission to the County by Dec. 17th.”

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