Pasadena Unified School Closures Loom Again, But Parents Reactions Seem Different Than in Previous Years

Parents seem increasingly to accept closings as inevitable, but point fingers at what they say is the lack of community support for public schools, poorly allocated District resources, and high housing costs

Published : Wednesday, August 28, 2019 | 5:37 AM

Many of last year’s Pasadena Unified School District school board meetings saw angry and tearful parents railing against any school closures, as the Board sought to close a $12 million budget gap.

School bands played, students pleaded, parents and students jammed the hallways of District headquarters, fighting hard against the closure of any campus.

This year, however, the District’s community reaction to the announcement of likely school consolidations seems decidedly muted by contrast.

Parents’ comments indicate many have apparently accepted the inevitability of some school closings.

But with that acceptance has come a healthy share of finger-pointing, blaming lack of community support for public schools, poorly allocated District resources, and local housing costs.

One PUSD parent, who asked not to be identified, told Pasadena Now Tuesday,  “It breaks my heart because no parent wants their kid’s school close. But we must close schools. We just don’t have the number of students we did when the schools were built.”

“At this point,” the parent continued, “I think we need to be looking at where we haven’t yet invested public money. There are some schools where whatever the enrollment, we’ve already put a lot of money into them. So from that perspective, I think it would be imprudent to go ahead and close them.”

The parent pointed out the example of Jackson Elementary, which was originally considered for closing but instead benefitted from a PUSD investment, resulting in the opening a language immersion curriculum and applying for a STEM grant.

“Now the school is bursting at the seams,” the parent noted.

For parent Sylvia Salas, it’s a question of allocating resources to neighborhood schools, which draw local children.

Said Salas Tuesday,  “I think that the best thing would be to draw neighborhood kids, because if you allocate the resources to those schools, for example, Webster, where you know the neighborhood kids are going; if you allocate all those resources, and give them extra programs and make the school better, then maybe that would draw more of the neighborhood kids and keep them there.”

Parent Jennifer Mirolla also understands the complexity of maintaining a district with a number of older campuses that no longer house thousands of students.

“We have a lot of nice buildings,” said Mirolla. “We have a lot of great things that go on at a lot of the different schools.

“But on the other hand,” Mirolla continued, “if you have budget problems, plus you’ve got buildings that are not using a whole second floor or whatever, [and] you’re trying to do maintenance on too many properties that you clearly can’t maintain….you’re going to have to downsize somewhere. It’s just, it’s inevitable.”

But the idea of choosing schools to keep open based on money spent to upgrade them is problematic, said Pasadena Unified Board Member Scott Phelps.

“I’ve been on the board the longest and I can tell you it’s a mixed bag. Because we don’t have a crystal ball. Frankly, we don’t know which schools are going to have dramatic declines in enrollment,” Phelps explained.

As Phelps explained, PUSD spent money to improve Cleveland Elementary, and then closed it.

“And there are other schools like that,” said Phelps, “but I can tell you it’s kind of half and half. We didn’t spend any money modernizing Linda Vista and we closed it. We didn’t spend any money on Allendale Elementary and we closed it. We didn’t spend any money on Burbank Elementary and we closed it, right? So about half of the schools we closed, we didn’t spend any money on.”

Naturally, school funding and closing issues are dominating local social media pages, as parents weigh in with varying shares of praise, resignation and blame.

Said Angela U. on Pasadena Now’s Facebook page,  “The issue here is our middle class community,  who has chosen to disengage from the public schools. I have 2 children who have attended PUSD since kindergarten. They are thriving. I currently have a child at @JohnMuirHighSchoolEarlyCollegeMagnet getting college credits for FREE during the school day, and a child at Washington STEAM Multilingual Academy. They love it and so do I.”

Overbooked classrooms are part of the problem, wrote Aj L.

“PHS had overbooked classrooms,” he said. “Teachers should not be having 30+ students in classrooms. And schools should not be closing! Make schools safer! Pay teachers more! Create classes which will actually benefit our children’s lives by balancing a bank account, carpentry, and cooking.”

Marta D., acknowledging the range of issues, responded, saying, “I grew up in Pasadena with 4 siblings. There’s no way families with 4 or 5 kids can afford to live in Pasadena. And yes, if I’d have raised my son in Pasadena I’d have sent him to private schools.”

Arash B. agreed, saying, “I can tell you that the private school my children go to has had an increase above normal in middle school this year. And people are moving out of Pasadena as well. The incoming are of higher income and they want nothing to do with PUSD. I am looking at sending my daughter to a private high school that will cost me $20k next year because I will not put her in PUSD. That is not easy for me.”

PUSD’s future is a question of supply and demand, said Arash B. “PUSD will have to close some schools and cut budgets, especially the retirement payouts, until it can attract back some students. Or force rent control on Pasadena; which seems like the way this city is going.”

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