School Board Members Bemoan Pasadena Unified School District Spending

Published : Monday, December 16, 2019 | 4:29 AM

Pasadena School Board Members Kimberly Kenne and Scott Phelps (at left) and Superintendent Dr. Brian McDonald and Chief Business Officer Leslie Barnes (at right). Images courtesy KLRN Pasadena

Despite a call by Superintendent Brian McDonald that Board of Education Members and Pasadena Unified School District staff speak in “one voice when it comes to District matters,” Board Members took staff to task for deficit spending ahead of a vote on the First Interim Budget which shows the District went over budget by $3.5 million.

“Despite our differences of opinion, we have to figure out a way to move forward together for the benefit of our District,” McDonald said at last Thursday night’s Board Meeting. “And we have to do all of these things if we are to take our rightful place as a respected social institution in this community.”

The District closed several schools and laid off teachers over the last two years to help close a budget gap and avoid being taken over by the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

McDonald pointed to December’s Interim Budget as evidence of the District’s improving financial health.

“Early budget projections are extremely conservative,” he said. “We are in much better shape fiscally and we will be, hopefully, for many years to come.”

But some Board Members, led by Scott Phelps, appeared frustrated that District officials had not kept spending within budget and that as student enrollment went down costs went up.

In October the District closed Wilson Middle School in response to a city-wide decline in enrollment, which continues. Jefferson, Franklin and Roosevelt elementary schools were also closed earlier this year.

“While we’re going through the ugliness of school closures, the budget is getting blown up by this amount of money,” said Board Member Scott Phelps.

The District was scheduled to save $1.07 million by keeping 10 fewer teachers, due to the anticipated decline in enrollment.

But the First Interim Budget revealed the District restored eight of those teaching positions, and moved forward without reducing teaches, despite fewer students.

The Board Members said they had little choice but to accept the Budget and classify it favorably.

“We’re not going to take teachers away in December,” said Board Member Kim Kenne as she echoed Phelp’s frustrations.

Last year LACOE Chief Financial Officer Candi Clark chided the District for not keeping its word regarding reductions in the past.

Over the past three years, Clark wrote to then-Board President Roy Boulghourjian, “Not only were planned expenditure reductions not implemented, the District has also committed itself to additional ongoing expenditures, placing the District in immediate risk of becoming insolvent.”

The budget includes increased spending $120,333 in utilities and $910,466 in transportation costs. The District will also incur $639,574 in 2020 and 2021 from moving expenses due to school closures.

Last year the District barely escaped county takeover by the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE). Voters passed Measure I and J, a three-quarter cent sales tax to help stave off LACOE. The money was placed in theDistrict reserves.
In December the board tabled a motion for an $850 million parcel tax that would have raised property in Pasadena, Altadena and Sierra Madre.

The board said the parcel tax could be reintroduced in time for the November election.

“I just want to say what I’m going to do going forward, because as George Bush said, ‘Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice. Shame on me.’” Phelps said. “Although he didn’t get it out quite correctly. I’m going to. I’m going to ask on every agenda item, whether it’s in the budget or not, including personnel assignments.”

blog comments powered by Disqus