Pasadena Unified Weighs Closing Schools as Enrollment Continues to Shrink

One School Board Member said the closure of as many as four schools could be proposed and authorized by early October

Published : Monday, August 26, 2019 | 4:40 AM

Scenes from 2018 when the Pasadena School Board went through school consolidation considerations which eventually resulted in closing Cleveland Elementary and assigning its students to Washington Accelerated School.

[Updated] Faced with shrinking enrollment, the Pasadena Unified School District is considering the number and location of school sites it should keep open, Interim Superintendent David Verdugo and currently-on-leave Superintendent Brian McDonald jointly revealed in an August 21 letter to the District’s community.

Recommendations could be presented to District staff by the Master Planning and Boundaries Subcommittee within a few weeks, the letter said.

District staff is expected to then present its recommendations for school closures and consolidations to the full Board of Education at a public Board meeting on September 19.

The final closure decisions are likely to be made by early October so parents know which schools will be closed prior to Pasadena Unified’s “Open Enrollment” process getting underway, School Board Member Scott Phelps explained.

The closures would start with the 2020-21 school year but could continue in years beyond, an official said.

Phelps said he expects the proposal will call for closing up to four schools.

In their letter, Verdugo and McDonald said “our Board is facing tough decisions.”

The pair explained that “lower birth rates and rising housing costs mean that the number of school-aged children living in Pasadena, Altadena, and Sierra Madre continues to drop.”

With 27 campuses for 16,000 students, Pasadena Unified’s resources “are spread thin.”

“Compared to surrounding school districts, PUSD has an average of 630 students per campus; our neighboring school districts average 900-1,000 students per campus. Statewide, enrollment averages 519 for elementary, 766 for middle schools, and 1,331 for high schools,” the letter pointed out.

District enrollment decreased by 374 students this year, but over the past five years enrollment has plunged by 1,259.

Declining enrollment and budgetary issues have forced the district to shutter schools before, mostly in nearby Altadena. In 2010, the board voted to close Loma Alta and Burbank elementary schools due to budgetary issues. After losing 1,100 students from 2004 to 2005, the board closed Noyes and Edison, both in Altadena, and Allendale and Linda Vista elementary schools, which are located in Pasadena.

The Superintendent’s School Boundary and Consolidation Committee met between October 2017 through January 2018 and reviewed programs and school capacity and develop recommendations to the full Board in March of 2018 on the number and location of school sites the district should keep open over the next five to 10 years.

After the Superintendent’s committee made its recommendations, the board voted to close Cleveland Elementary School as a cost-saving measure made during a series of cuts to stave off a takeover by the Los Angeles County of Education. At that time two other schools — Franklin Elementary School and Wilson Middle School escaped the chopping block.

Then in March last year, McDonald said in an email blast to local stakeholders that the Board of Education had opted to indefinitely postpone exploring any school closures to save money.

With last week’s letter, however, efforts to “right-size” the District’s school facilities to match its student body is seen to be clearly underway again.

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