Proposed $850 Million PUSD Bond Raises Eyebrows, Prompts Questions

Published : Wednesday, November 20, 2019 | 5:37 AM

The Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) Board of Education is set to decide Thursday whether to seek voter approval to sell $850 million in bonds to upgrade its facilities and to levy an increase to property taxes to pay the financing.

Specifically, the board will vote on an order requesting the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters to place a proposed “Pasadena Unified School District Repair, Student Achievement Safety Measure” on the March 3, 2020 ballot.

The purpose, according to the proposed ballot language, is to “upgrade neighborhood schools and attract/retain quality teachers by repairing deteriorating classrooms, bathrooms, roofs, upgrading computer/science labs school security, fire safety; removing hazardous materials; providing safe drinking water, disable accessibility; acquiring, constructing, repairing sites, facilities, equipment…”

Some have questioned the need for the bond.

“This also comes on the heels of a recent sales tax increase [Measure J] that PUSD received a portion of, and PUSD just closed four schools,” said realtor Bill Podley, Deasy Penner Podley Real Estate. “So many residents have asked, ‘Why do they need this amount of money for school facilities if they’re closing schools?’”

But Pasadena Board of Education Member Scott Phelps said the Board knew it would ask for the bond while they were discussing school closures.

“So we, on purpose closed schools before we asked the voters for a bond so that they would see that we were rightsizing, doing the painful work, and we closed four schools in the last couple of months for next year,” Phelps said. “That actually improves the efficiency of the usage of the funds, because it’s clear which sites would have priority, and which wouldn’t.”

Others say the District should wait.

“It’s too soon after Measures I/J,” said Ishmael Trone, former President of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, and local businessman. “PUSD needs more accountability on how the Measure I funds were allocated. And they need to inform the community that before they ask for more funding, we need to know what the balance is between the City and the School District.”

Former Pasadena Area Community College District Board Trustee Ross Selvidge cautions voters Pasadena Unified’s planning for use of the funds is fuzzy and the resolution’s legal language is vague.

“Voters will not know what they will or will not get for their money, what will be built, where it will be built, in what order it will be built (priorities), and when,” Selvidge said.

A well-illustrated color Powerpoint proposal added to the agenda this week is not incorporated into the legal language voters would approve.

“What governs [the election] is the Resolution, not the PowerPoint presentation to the Board. The list of ‘projects for individual schools’ at the end of the Resolution is not numbered as a page in the Resolution and states that any and all of it could change!” Selvidge said.

“They have a shopping list. If it’s a dream list, it’s everybody’s dream list about what they would want to maybe build, or add, or fix, or enlarge, or enhance.”

Pasadena Chamber of Commerce President Paul Little spoke with Pasadena Now, not in his official capacity, but from a strictly personal perspective.

“I think there are a lot of questions that people are going to ask and that need to be raised,” said Little. “And I think the school district really needs to take a close look in the mirror and figure out whether they think taxpayers can trust them with that volume of money.”

It is worth noting here that the proposed order calls for an annual, independent performance audit of how the bond monies are spent and for the board to appoint a Citizens’ Oversight Committee.

Pablo Alvarado of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network said he’s on board where certain conditions are met.

“If that money goes to those schools,” he explained, “I wouldn’t mind paying more taxes, but if it is for the school district to continue pursuing the failed strategy of making affluent schools more affluent would oppose it.”

But Pasadena Latino Forum Co-Chair Yuny Parada was less charitable.

“My thoughts are that it is laughable that, after they mistreat the Latino community and they abuse the children that are with special needs, they have the guts to ask for more money,” Parada said.

The resolution to place the bond onto the March 3, 2020 ballot is on the Pasadena Unified School Board’s agenda to be heard this Thursday, November 21.

The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. in the Elbie J. Hickambottom Board Room, 351 South Hudson Avenue, Pasadena.

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