School Board Keeps Cutting, Makes $3.4 Million in Additional Reductions in Dramatic Session

Board postpones school consolidation meeting to October 30, removes cancellation of Blair High athletic program, approves over $1 million in personnel office cuts

Published : Friday, October 26, 2018 | 5:26 AM

[Updated]    Faced with a November 15 deadline to decide upon $10.1 million in budget reductions, the Pasadena Board of Education on Thursday night rolled up its sleeves and in about three hours agreed upon the first round of new cuts totaling approximately $3.4 million.

The Board delayed making any decisions about closing Franklin and Cleveland Elementary Schools and Wilson Middle School and consolidating their student bodies with existing schools. A special meeting devoted to school closures will be held on October 30.

The Board also pulled cancellation of Blair High School’s CIF athletic program off its list of possible cuts.

The District is working to achieve a State-required 3% reserve in its Reserve for Economic Uncertainties fund, which translates to approximately $6.6 million in the first fiscal year. By the end of the 2020-2021 school year, the Board must have increased its ending fund balance projection by $10.1 million.

Prior to the formal Board discussion, dozens of speakers addressed the Board in support of their school campuses, urging the Board not to consolidate any of them.

Lars Dennert, Wilson Middle School parent and local business owner, pointed out numerous cost overruns in various school building projects, including one case he said amounted to more than $8 million, and asked how those could be tolerated in light of the budget crisis.

In introducing the discussion, Pasadena Unified Superintendent Brian McDonald laid out the reduction goals and told the Board that any revenue which might come from the possible passage of Measures I and J in the upcoming election should not be figured into the evening’s discussion.

Measure I is a city sales tax measure and Measure J is an advisory measure which, if the tax were passed, would allow the Pasadena City Council to allocate up to one-third of the new sales tax revenue to Pasadena Unified. Both are on the upcoming November 6 ballot.

McDonald noted the decreasing attendance in the District, saying that at some schools the rate of decreasing enrollment has doubled in the past year.

McDonald also told the Board that any reductions not approved by the Board would not be eliminated from consideration, but would return for another round until the reduction goal was achieved

Pearl Iiznka, a fiscal expert brought in to work with the Pasadena Unified by the Los Angeles County Office of Education, told the Board that if they were unable to meet their reduction goals for the next three years, a fiscal expert would be brought in as fiscal advisor to manage the District’s finances.

The advisor would have “stay and rescind authority,” and the Board would no longer retain any decision-making authority over its finances.

With that and a final explanation from Interim Chief Business Officer Eva Lueck, a working interactive spreadsheet was illuminated on a video display and was updated in real time as the Board began discussions and made decisions.

The Board began by raising charter school campus lease rates, generating an estimated increase of $134,000.

The Board cut two assistant superintendents from the Division of Academics, saving $240,000 in the first fiscal year. The two would be replaced by one new employee, ostensibly performing both positions.

Board President Lawrence Torres reacted with dismay, saying, “We won’t be able to keep anybody if we expect everyone to do 18 jobs.”

“Every decision we make will affect the workload,” responded Chief Academic Officer Elizabeth Blanco.

The Board then eliminated a TOSA Pathway instructional coach and one bilingual coordinator.

Board Member Kimberly Kenne mused, “We’re starving these programs, but we’re not canceling them. We expect them to continue, but we are taking away their support. This is going to make a lot of unhappy people.”

The Board tabled two additional items—the first, to reduce the International Baccalaureate coordinator to only ten months a year and the other to implement an administration ratio for assistant principals.

The school closing items were then moved up on the agenda to make sure that they would be heard before a self-imposed 10:30 p.m. time limit on the reduction discussion.

The Board members clearly seemed were troubled by the idea of school closures.

Kenne told fellow Board members she felt as if the decisions had no rationale.

“I need to know why these particular schools were chosen to be closed. I don’t know that without these closings, we won’t get to our goal,” she said. “I need a rationale.”

Watching the meeting, Kyle Douglas, Principal at Wilson Middle School, said, “The Board needs to have a conversation with the individuals transitioning to other sites. People like our robotics teacher Jason Taylor, our math teacher Marian Pena, and Marvin Hatchett, who teaches our drum corps. These are the people who are affected by these changes.”

Addressing the moment, and following the decision to table the school closing discussion, Board member Patrick Cahalan told the audience, “This is not a value judgment. The problem is that there are no 34,000 school-age kids anymore. We know you’re angry, we know you’re mad at us. But whatever we decide, we have to have a goal here.”

The Board then approved reductions in the personnel office, eliminating, shifting, and consolidating various positions to achieve a reduction of $1,077, 277 by 2021. The business services division and warehouse procurement process would also both be restructured.

Among other suggestions following the formal discussion, Board member Cahalan also proposed “looking more closely” at central certificated staffing.

Three more scheduled meetings. $6.2 million to go.

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