School Board Member Gives Insights Into Pasadena Unified’s Multi-Faceted Budget Crisis

A number of trends are lining up to make things difficult, Patrick Cahalan said

Published : Sunday, January 21, 2018 | 7:14 PM

Pasadena Board of Education Member Patrick Cahalan seen speaking to Pasadena’s Progressive Discussion Group on Friday, January 19, 2018.

Pasadena Board of Education Member Patrick Cahalan told Pasadena’s Progressive Discussion Group last Friday that Pasadena Unified’s looming budget crisis stems from a number of trends “lining up to make things very difficult.”

Cahalan characterized retirement contributions skyrocketing 138.4 percent since the 2013-14 school year as a “3, 900 pound gorilla standing on our chest as a district.”

But the District is also facing other issues at the same time, he said, noting that the District’s enrollment continues to decline (which reduces revenues allocated by the State), the federal government has cut Special Education funding, and overall costs keep rising.

“Few understand implicitly that there are budget problems in the school district, but they don’t know exactly to the extent and scope of what the District has been dealing with for the last twenty-five years,” Cahalan said.

“Probably the most common misperception is that the District is getting more money,” added Cahalan.

“Our expenditures have been going up,” said Cahalan.

One expenditure in particular is of concern.

“Benefits has been a big killer,” said Cahalan about the 60 percent increase in the past four years.

This category has also seen a rise in health and welfare costs by approximately 30 percent, according to Cahalan.

“Most of which has gone into effect starting essentially this year,” said Cahalan.

Another area of Cahalan’s concerns is the increase in uncompensated special education costs.

“The cold reality is that while all of these costs have gone up, our special education contributions from the feds have been completely flat and it’s probably going to go down next year,” said Cahalan who explained the $9 million contribution for special education services in 2013 has remained the same.

Cahalan says the costs for special education have also increased in regards to salaries, benefits, and fees for contracted instructors who are hired from outside firms.

“One of the reasons why our budget went so out of whack between is that our previous administration proposed a flat budget for special ed and our special costs have gone up by about twelve percent already,” said Cahalan.

A long-term trend within the PUSD Cahalan is concerned about is the declining enrollment rates that may be related to the lack of single-family housing available in the city.

“We’ve been in declining enrollment for 25 years,” said Cahalan.

According to a 2016 demographic report, approximately 55 percent of school-age children who live within district boundaries attend PUSD schools while the remaining children are enrolled in private, charter schools, or attend schools in nearby districts.

“A big problem is that our incoming kinder enrollment has also gone down because there are just not as many kinder kids in the District. Middle-class flight in Pasadena has been a thing for quite some time,” said Cahalan.

Mayor Terry Tornek announced at last week’s State of the City Address that he would be asking the City Council to approve a ballot measure for a .75 cent per dollar (3/4 quarters of one cent per dollar) sales tax increase on the November 2018 ballot.

In this ballot, Tornek proposed that one third of the proposed tax be shared with the Pasadena Unified School District, which is facing its own “significant” budget challenges.

Calling the increase a “big ask,” the mayor said that the tax would generate $21 million annually.

“That would help quite a bit, although it still would not entirely fund our pension cost increases,” said Cahalan about the estimated $7 million contributions that would go to the PUSD.


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