PUSD Parents Confront School Board, Council Members, Demand School Closures Be Rescinded

Published : Thursday, October 10, 2019 | 4:42 AM

Jefferson Elementary School parent Rene Gonzales at the October 9 meeting.

[Updated]   Despite Pasadena Unified Board Member Kimberly Kenne’s late-meeting statement that she did not see the Board of Education “changing course” or rescinding its Sept. 26 decision to close three elementary schools, nearly 100 parents, students and supporters from Franklin, Jefferson and Roosevelt schools pressed demands challenging the Board’s recent school consolidations and closures at a public meeting Wednesday.

School Board Members Kenne and Patrick Cahalan, along with Pasadena Vice Mayor Tyron Hampton and Councilmembers Victor Gordo and John Kennedy answered a host of questions from the community members who packed a Jefferson Elementary School classroom.

In a series of opening statements, Kenne explained that the District was battling low birth rates and that the three final options (out of more than 20 possible) for the school closings and consolidations were arrived at in a meeting three days before they were voted on at a PUSD Board meeting two weeks ago.

Pasadena School Board Members Patrick Cahalan and Kimberly Kenne with Councilmember Victor Gordo during the October 9 meeting.

Most of the community members’ questions centered around a set of demands that included rescinding the school closure orders, converting closed campuses into affordable housing complexes, and creating a Pasadena Unified campaign to attract charter school students back into District schools.

Asked about new funds to pay for keeping schools open, Kenne told the audience that the new Measure J sales tax funds have already been spent for the year.

‘We need to stay away from deficit spending, since we are in danger of an impending recession. We want to spend our money on programming,” she added.

“The City should work together with the PUSD,” countered Jefferson parent Rene Gonzales, who led much of the parents’ discussion. “They should develop a new law that requires affordable housing for all new developments in the City, and the law should give priority for these homes, to parents with school-age children.”

Valencia Garcia asked the Council and Board Members, “How many of you have had your children cry because their school is being closed?”

Both School Board Members Cahalan and Kenne told the community members that their sons or daughters all attended PUSD schools. Gordo and Hampton, a former PUSD Board member, also told the audience that they both attended local schools. Gordo attended Madison Elementary, Wilson Middle School and Pasadena High Schools, while Hampton attended John Muir High School.

“I was a non-English speaking student in the PUSD,” Gordo said. “My family spoke only Spanish, and both my parents worked. I understand your suffering.”

Gordo told the audience, in English and Spanish, “I know what this is like for you. All of us here have the same goal. These decisions are not easy.”

“A number of parents asked about the possibility of property swap for the main district office and operating out of remote branches or renting it out, but Kenne and Gordo explained that there are rules about what they can do with their property.  “The education code is state law for the disposition of surplus property, not only for the school districts, but also for any government organization,” said Gordo.

“I believe that our district and school board would be very supportive of housing solutions, but we can’t necessarily get into that business ourselves,” added Kenne.

Calahan, who told the audience he had children in Longfellow Elementary, a primarily Latino school, said there were “three forces at work” in the current PUSD struggle.

First, he said, the state does not commit enough money to schools. He cited both Wisconsin and Wyoming as two states who provide far more money to schools that does California.

Second, he said, enrollments at local schools are no longer filled. Echoing Kenne’s earlier comments, he said, families throughout the state and nation are growing smaller.

Finally, said Cahalan, is the lack of affordable housing in Pasadena.

Kenne said that families are moving not only out of Pasadena but out of California, because of the high cost of housing. “They moving to Arkansas, and Arizona,” she said.

Gonzales finally asked about the District’s plans to reach out to the parents of students who have left Pasadena Unified in favor of attending charter schools.

Cahalan responded, ‘We do have plans that are in effect now, but they just don’t work fast enough. There are just not enough Kindergarten students out there.”

He explained that “capture rates” are improved, but, “there are just fewer kids.”

Unfazed, the community members are planning a march on October 24 which would be accompanied by a “student strike,” during which students will not attend classes. According to the meeting agenda, retired teachers and specialists would hold classes in parks and local libraries on that day.

Rescind this unfair decision, said Gonzales. “We will not go down without a fight.”

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