School Board to Take Public Temperature on School Closing Plans

Published : Thursday, October 17, 2019 | 5:02 AM

Pasadena Unified parents and community stakeholders address Pasadena School Board Members during Oct. 9 meeting at Jefferson Elementary School.

The Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education will convene a pair of public forums to hear from stakeholders about middle and high school consolidations.

The first of two Secondary School Consolidation Meetings takes place Thursday night, and the second on Oct. 22.

Having already identified elementary schools for shuttering, the board is moving on to closures in the higher grades and the forums are intended to take the community’s temperature, which could be pretty high.

PUSD’s public outreach in the elementary school closings has been criticized, primarily by some in the Latino community, who feel targeted by the choices ultimately made. Much of the discussion is related to those choices, how they were arrived at, and how different communities are perceiving and interpreting them.

Other skirmishes are the result of proposed responses to the closings, such as how to get the kids from the neighborhoods around the closed schools to their new ones, or in what manner those students will be distributed.

School Board member Scott Phelps said that providing bus service to the displaced students would make school closure decisions a little easier for PUSD Board Members while expressing doubt that it’s really necessary.

Some students at Wilson Middle School, he said, live rather far from campus, yet manage to get there by regular bus. He observed that many students at Roosevelt Elementary are driven to school and pointed out that when there was a bus drivers strike, school attendance numbers were unaffected.

Phelps said there is a “typical Pasadena mentality” generating the opinion that “these poor people can’t get their kids to school.” That, he suggested is to project low expectations upon those one is trying to help.

“People have cars, right? So, it’s just sort of the big-hearted, compassionate approach, which I understand, but it’s not really based on established facts,” said Phelps.

Board President Lawrence Torres said transportation should play a role in the process.

“We talked about it at the last Board meeting, the matter of providing transportation from Wilson to whatever new school they would be going to,” he said in an interview. “But [only] for a period of time, because I think families make adjustments and, so we’ll have to see how long a transportation plan is necessary.”

Phelps said the first order of business is getting students reassigned so that the actual transportation budget can be configured. Torres said a transportation plan would most likely be part of an overall vote on the school closures.

“They will, perhaps, issue some directives, as opposed to sitting down with a committee

of parents from each school and asking them what kind of transition they want,” said Pablo Alvarado, National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “Transportation is just one issue. The other is priority enrollment. Are they going to get priority to enroll in the other schools?”

If Board Member Phelps has his way, the answer to that question would be yes.

“What we usually do when we close the schools,” he said, “is that we give those families of the closed schools the chance to choose schools they want to go to. And that means any school. Give them priority.”

The debate about transportation, some say, misses the point about how school closure decisions are being made.

“It is not busing that people are complaining about,” said Alvarado. “The grievances people have are bigger than that. Reducing the whole situation to busing is exactly what the school district would want to do.”

“What’s on the minds of parents at closing schools,” he continued, “is the fact that they are in the Northwest and Altadena area. There is the question of why Don Benito or San Rafael were not closed.”

The effect of the District’s policies, said Alvarado, is to “further marginalize students that actually attend PUSD.”

“That’s what they need to review,” he stated, “and listen to the parents. That’s the most important thing, that there is a conversation with parents.”

There are issues particular to the specific schools, Alvarado observed. Roosevelt, which is equipped to handle special needs students, is being closed.

“If those students are disseminated throughout the district, are they going to build the same infrastructure in every school?” he asked.

The closure of Roosevelt Elementary School is a decision that PUSD needs to revisit, said Alvarado.

Luciana Lazalde, a Roosevelt parent, said Roosevelt is truly a community school with between 70 percent and 80 percent of the student body being nearby residents.

“We’re thinking right now, why our school?” she said. “In that school where everybody lives around it, how come we’re not having any say in this?”

The lack of Board communication with parents is a major issue in PUSD, according to Lazalde: “They don’t care. They just don’t care.”

The planned forums seem to be in response to that kind of community feedback.

Rene Gonzales, a former Roosevelt and current Marshall Fundamental parent said, “The problem is that they’re closing a school on high demographics and we’re taking it as an act of discrimination by PUSD.”

Gonzales said he has requested the Los Angeles County Office of Education do a review as preliminary to taking over the District.

“These are bad leaders,” he said, pointing to the current Pasadena Unified School Board.

“We understand the need to downsize, the budget crisis, and that money comes from California or the federal government,” said Gonzales. “What we don’t understand is why it’s our low-income community in high-density schools being targeted versus closing the schools at San Rafael or Don Benito, their alternative schools.”

Board Member Phelps explained the rationale behind the shuttering of high density, primarily Latino schools.

“Certain Board Members are supporting something that is better for these families, which is going to these high-choice schools,” he said. “It’s better for them educationally, for their kids to experience a diversity in those schools that better match the community.”

Tonight’s community forum will be moderated by the League of Women Voters Pasadena Chapter from 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. in the auditorium at Pasadena High School, located at 2925 East Sierra Madre Boulevard.

The second meeting on the consolidations Tuesday, October 22, 2019, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m., John Muir Early College Magnet Auditorium, 1905 Lincoln Avenue.

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