Pasadena Unified Board Could Decide to Close as Many as 4 Elementary Schools Next Thursday

Two separate PUSD committees make recommendations for consolidations as dropping enrollment empties classrooms and coffers

Published : Friday, September 20, 2019 | 4:40 AM

A somber mood prevailed at a special meeting of the Pasadena Board of Education on Thursday, September 19, 2019, at which school closings were discussed. Shown are Board President Larry Torres and District 4 Board Member Patrick Cahalan and District 3 Board Member Michelle Richardson Bailey.

A year after Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Brian McDonald announced that any discussions on closing Pasadena public schools had been put off “indefinitely,” the District’s Board will meet next Thursday to finalize plans which could see the closing or consolidating of at least four elementary school campuses.

“We’re not in a pleasant place,” said School Board Member Roy Boulghourjian, introducing the discussion Thursday. “‘We’re damned if we close, and damned if we don’t close.”

“The Pasadena Unified School District is facing difficult decisions to lay a stable foundation for the future of public schools in Altadena, Pasadena, and Sierra Madre,” the District said a statement Thursday .

According to the statement, Pasadena Unified’s resources are “spread thin across 27 school campuses that serve 16,000 students.”

Lower birth rates and rising housing costs mean that the number of school-age children living in the district continues to drop, which impacts student enrollment in PUSD and funding from the state and federal government.

“Families can’t afford to live in Pasadena anymore,” said Board Member Patrick Cahalan, adding that the District would need 19,000 more middle-class families to enter the District to make up the current deficit and avoid closing schools.

“We would not be having this discussion if California funded its schools like Wisconsin,” he said, passionately. “California has atrociously bad school funding.”

The District has seen a loss of 2,087 K-12 students, the equivalent of 5 average-sized elementary schools, since 2012-13.

The District has closed only one elementary school in that time period. Beyond 2019-20, the District is anticipated to lose another 1,717 K-12 students through 2025-26, according to a District presentation.

Each student loss equates to an approximate revenue loss of $10,100 in State funding, according to the District report, anticipating an additional loss of revenue of $17.3 million over the next 6 years.

“We’re losing kids, and we can’t change that,” said Cahalan.

The Board subsequently convened a Master Plan/Boundary Subcommittee in November 2018, to review programs and school capacity, and develop school closures and consolidations.

Additionally, an Executive Leadership Team led by Interim Superintendent David Verdugo developed its own recommendations for school closings and consolidations.

“There are about 20 options,” Board President Lawrence Torres said of the various recommendations between the two groups.

The Boundary Subcommittee developed eight scenarios, with each set incorporating both closures and consolidations. The ELT developed four of its own.

Of the various scenarios or “groupings” developed by the Boundary Subcommittee, most involve the closing of Don Benito, Longfellow, Roosevelt, and San Rafael schools, as well as combining the Franklin and Jackson Elementary school campuses.

Board Member Kimberly Kenne told the Board that she would “not be comfortable” with any scenario that left both Don Benito and Norma Coombs open, but she would not recommending closing both.

“It would be a bad message to close two low-income schools,” said Kenne.

Ironically, Don Benito Fundamental School, located in East Pasadena close to Sierra Madre, drew the most parents asking for the campus to remain open.

Don Benito parent Scott Harden told the Board that the Don Benito school community was willing to establish a “Neighborhood Community Partnership” to help develop revenue options to help keep the school open.

At the other end, Cahalan told the Board, “Don’t close Longfellow. Those kids have nowhere else to go.”

Tearful parents also pleaded with the Board not to close Roosevelt Elementary School.

The Executive Leadership Team selected chose four options, but Superintendent Verdugo said they would most readily recommend a grouping that would send Franklin students to Altadena, Jefferson students to Longfellow, and Roosevelt students to Madison. According to Verdugo, teachers at those schools would follow students to the new campuses.

The two groups will meet again Monday to develop recommendations to present to the Board for a vote next Thursday, September 26. The earliest that any school closure would take effect is at the end of the current school year, in June 2020.

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