School Board Can’t Promise Bus Transportation to Students Whose Neighborhood Schools Will Close

Some parents say they may pull children out of Pasadena Unified, others say they are “in disagreement” with school closures and seek state or federal intervention

Published : Wednesday, October 23, 2019 | 5:02 AM

Two days before a Board of Education vote on the closure of middle schools and possibly one high school, Pasadena Unified parents at a Tuesday night Town Hall at John Muir High School seemed resigned to dealing with possible upheaval in their family’s life

Roosevelt, Jefferson, and Franklin Elementary schools were slated for closure by the District last month, a change that will come at the end of this school year.

A number of parents said they want to pull their children out of District schools altogether, which would further reduce the amount of state school funding the District receives.

Others, particularly low-income families in Northwest Pasadena, face the possible closure of neighborhood schools without a District plan for buses to transport their children to their new school.

“They obviously cannot pay for private schools,” said Rene Gonzales, a Roosevelt Elementary School parent. “They’ll just have to take the bullet. They’ll have to take this imposition, because that’s what this is. It’s just all wrong, you know?”

Gonzales also criticized the District’s reaction to demographic data compiled by Davis Demographics—hired by the City to gather population and attendance data that is used to create projections over the next few years.

“Davis says, ‘The best way to plan for future facility requirement is know where the next group of school-age children will reside.’ But [the District] knows where they will reside, and they are closing those schools right in [those neighborhoods]. It’s ridiculous.”

According to Gonzales, Roosevelt parents “are still in disagreement” with the Board’s decision to close the school. Gonzales said they “still hope that this decision is going to be looked at by the state and federal government, and that we can ultimately reverse this vote.”

Gonzales is helping to organize a protest march Thursday from City Hall to Pasadena Unified District headquarters on South Hudson, set to arrive just before the School Board meets to cast its votes on the next round of closures.

“The District’s attendance figures have been steadily declining, reflecting national and statewide demographic trends, local housing prices, and competition with private and charter schools,” said a report from the School Consolidation Study Committee, back in October 21, 2010.

District officials explained their case to the parents.

‘We should have been closing an elementary school a year for the last few years,” said Dr. Elizabeth Blanco, the District’s chief academic officer. Blanco noted that the District’s budget woes were worse than originally projected four years ago.

The District has seen a steady decrease in attendance since at least 2012, with attendance dropping from 18,000-plus in 2012, to about 16,000 in 2019. District projections indicate that the school district will stabilize at just over 14,000 in the 2025-26 school year.

Superintendent Dr. Brian McDonald once again noted that the District now competes with approximately 57 private and non-profit charter schools District-wide.

According to the District’s presentation, each student loss represents a revenue loss of approximately $10,100, representing a total revenue loss of $17.3 million over the next 6 years.

PUSD has been fighting a budget battle over the last four years, and its current budget still contains $4 million in reductions for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

Five million dollars in Measure J sales tax revenue has been used to backfill lost revenue due to declining enrollment and to preserve signature programs and arts & music programs without reductions.

Additional budget reductions will also be necessary to offset anticipated declining enrollment through 2024-25, according to the presentation.

McDonald told the Muir audience that the District would not be facing anymore school closures “for another 5 to 7 years.”

But, said Blanco, budget reductions are “not done yet.”

Blanco also added that the District is not able to fully project revenue shortcomings, until after the open enrollment period is ended.

Board Member Patrick Calahan told the audience candidly, “State budgets are balanced on the backs of school districts.” Cahalan has repeatedly criticized California’s poor funding of public schools.

PUSD Board President Lawrence Torres concurred with Cahalan, saying, “This is what being 41st in the nation in school funding looks like. We are the ninth largest economy in the world, and we are 41st in the nation in school funding.”

[As of 2018, California was actually the fifth largest economy in the world.]

Torres also told Pasadena Now that the board could not guarantee that school buses would be provided once schools are closed.

“My understanding is that a school bus costs $500,000 a year,” Torres said. “If we save $600,000 a year by closing a school, but spend $500,000 on buses … ” He pondered, not finishing the sentence.

Among the numerous questions posed by the audience to the Board Tuesday were queries as to the fates of faculty, staff and properties, should certain schools be closed.

Superintendent McDonald noted that the District staff is working on transition plans and that they were waiting for the end of the open enrollment period to make decisions.

Board Member Elizabeth Pomeroy told the audience that she wanted to keep any closed school campuses “active and not empty,” and would seek out partnerships and new revenue sources for the District.

Board Member Michelle Richardson-Bailey said that she was actively supporting SB 14, a new State bill which would open the door for workforce housing at District campuses.

The PUSD Master Plan/Boundary Sub-committee developed a number of options for the Districts’ middle schools and high schools in early October. The High School 1 Plan would keep all four high schools open with current grade levels. The High School 2 Plan would keep three high schools, Blair, Muir, and Pasadena High School, and close Marshall 9-12.

The Middle School 1 plan would keep four stand-alone middle schools—Eliot, Sierra Madre, Washington, and Wilson, and close McKinley 6-8, Blair 6-8, and Marshall 6-8.

The Middle School 2 plan would add Blair 6-8 to the list of stand-alone middle schools.

The Middle School 3 Plan would keep three stand-alone middle schools—Eliot, Washington, Wilson and Blair 6-12, and close McKinley 6-8, Marshall 6-8, and Sierra Madre Middle School.

The Middle School 4 Plan would keep three stand-alone middle schools: Eliot, Washington, Sierra Madre Middle, and Blair 6-12, Marshall 6-12, and close McKinley 6-8 and Wilson 6-8. The Middle School 5 plan would close Wilson Middle School.

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