School Board Plans More Public Discussion of School Closures Before Decisions, Announces Town Hall

Transportation emerges as key issue; PUSD will hold at least one more town hall meeting before final vote October 24

Published : Friday, October 11, 2019 | 4:37 AM

Parents, teachers and students intently watch Pasadena School Board meeting in an overflow room outside the Board room on October 10, 2019.

Thursday’s PUSD Board meeting saw yet another packed Board chamber, with hallways and overflow rooms filled with scores of anxious parents, students and teachers testifying before the board and defending their campuses from possible consolidation or closure.

Facing a perfect storm of low birth rates, declining attendance, and lack of affordable housing, the District has lost 1200 students in the last five years, an amount equal to four elementary schools or two middle schools, and forcing some “excruciating decisions,” said Board President Lawrence Torres, in opening the meeting.

“The larger conversation here is that we are trying to find a future for Pasadena Unified,” said Torres. “What will this district look like in the future with the various pressures it’s under, and the declining enrollment?”

Torres continued, “This conversation did not start last week, or even a year ago. We have probably been having this conversation since 2005.”

Following the announced closure of three elementary schools last month, the PUSD Board of Trustees will vote on a series of possible middle school and high school closures at a scheduled meeting October 24.

Until then, however, the Pasadena Unified will hold at least one town hall meeting next week to present closure and consolidation options for the beleaguered school district’s middle and high schools.

The planned meeting, likely to be held next Thursday, October 17, will allow PUSD community members to once again weigh in on the possibility of a series of closure options. The meeting will be moderated by the League of Women Voters.

“Our goal in these very difficult decisions before the Board of Education is to fulfill a vision for PUSD that delivers high quality academic and supportive experiences for all students,” said Superintendent Dr. Brian McDonald, recently returned from prostate cancer surgery. “Every student in PUSD will have access to challenging and engaging academics and life-enhancing enrichment opportunities. PUSD is adjusting to demographic change and the resulting economic impact on public school funding.”

McDonald added, “The time to take action for a better future is now, and the best way to ensure success is to ensure access for all students.”

The PUSD Master Plan/Boundary Subcommittee has developed a number of options for the Districts’ middle schools and high schools.

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.

“It’s important to remember,” said Torres, “that none of these are ‘bad schools.’ If they were, we would have closed them already.”

Torres also noted that the district is not looking at test scores in their choices.

During Thursday’s meeting, Board Members heard presentations from students from Blair, Marshall Fundamental, McKinley Middle School, Sierra Madre Middle School, the Mandarin Dual Language Immersion Program, and Wilson Middle School.

As one parent noted, “It stinks that in order to save our schools, we are unwittingly advocating for the closure of other schools.”

Jason Moss, parent at Marshall Fundamental, said, “If you close the school, students will leave the district. Telling them their schools will change in their last two years, will have a detrimental effect on these students, who are just figuring out their lives.”

Mauricio Flores, a PUSD parent who moved to Antelope Valley, married, and returned with school-age children to Pasadena, noted that Wilson has a lot of inter-district students.

“Students will go to San Gabriel if Wilson [Middle School] gets closed,” he said.

Parent Patricia Tan told the Board, “Don’t hurt the programs that have been successful. We moved to Pasadena for the schools. Look at the future. Look at the growth.”

Andrea Santana, Wilson Middle School student, noting the success of the school’s drum corps and its volunteer leader, security officer Marvin Hatchett, told the board, “Marvin Hatchett won’t go to another school. If you close the school, you’re hurting everybody.”

During the Board discussion of school consolidations, Board Member Patrick Calahan also noted the transportation difficulties for some students whose campuses would be closed.

“Do we need a transportation plan here?” he asked. “That would affect my decisions.”

Cahalan said “there are some schools I would not consider closing without (a transportation plan).”

Board President Torres agreed that some of the consolidation plans will require a transportation plan, “for at least two-three years.”

Cahalan also noted that the 500 students who in recent years stop attending PUSD are mostly elementary school age, but that gap will begin to filter through higher grades.

“We need to consider that, regardless of what we do regarding secondary schools,” he said. “There is a trough making its way to middle and secondary schools, so I have a sense of urgency to getting this decision done soon.”

Board Member Elizabeth Pomeroy stressed the need for a strong marketing campaign to attempt to draw students back to PUSD from charter schools.

The Board will meet with representatives from the League of Women Voters today, and decide on the date for next week’s meeting, possibly the first of two, to be announced Monday.

blog comments powered by Disqus