Special Education Costs Jump, Adding to School Board’s Financial Woes at Inopportune Moment

Published : Wednesday, November 14, 2018 | 6:30 AM

Pasadena Unified’s Chief Academic Officer Dr. Elizabeth Blanco tells the Pasadena Unified School Board that special education costs have increased by $3.5 million, adding pressure to the Board's cost-cutting requirements, at a special Board meeting on Tuesday, November 13, 2018.

[Updated] An announcement by Pasadena Unified’s Chief Academic Officer Dr. Elizabeth Blanco Tuesday night at a School Board special meeting that the District’s special education budget will jump by $3.5 million to cover increasing costs, added pressure to the Board’s challenge to meet a financial target set by Los Angeles County or face a possible fiscal takeover.

The Board has until December 17 to deliver a satisfactory fiscal stabilization plan to the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE).

Originally, the Board had to cut $10.1 million from the next three years’ budgets to meet the County’s requirements. That number now becomes at least $13.6 million.

In an unrelenting series of special meetings, the Board has repeatedly revisited schools, programs, and other costs which could be closed or cut to close the financial gap, in the process deciding to close Cleveland Elementary School.

So far, the Board has agreed to $8.5 million in cost cuts, including $3 million identified on Tuesday night.

In the wake of last week’s overwhelming passages of sales tax measures I and J, a number of Board Members said Tuesday they were confident that Pasadena’s City Council would agree to share a third of the expected $21 million in new yearly revenue.

But the Board did not account for any of the sales tax revenue last night, and continued cost-cutting with only passing mention of the sales tax measures.

As Board Member Kimberly Kenne said on social media Monday, “It is now necessary to allow the City Council time to go through their process to implement what the public endorsed with the passage of Measure J.”

“I am confident that the Council will work with the District to achieve an agreeable arrangement,” Kenne wrote. “The Board and District need to show that the faith of the community in them is not misplaced, by using existing and new funds in an equitable manner that educates our children in the way this community deserves”

Following a series of meetings over the last few weeks, the Board found itself with only eight remaining budget items Tuesday, before revisiting the budget “from the top” once again.

Among the first reductions made Tuesday were cuts to teachers in the Dual Language Immersion program.

As the Board moved through the budget, line item cuts which were previously refused or tabled returned to the discussion, and a number of items were once again reviewed and refused.

At one point, an apparently frustrated Kenne said, emphatically, “We need to get to $10 million, now.”

Board Member Michelle Bailey responded, “You’re cutting where we need people.”

The Board also discussed trying to “break its lease” on Google Chromebooks for elementary students , but held off the vote pending research by Chief Technology Officer Tendaji Jamal. The move would cut approximately $2 million from the budget.

Meanwhile, the Board voted to cut an unspecified $1.5 million from Special Education over the next two years, as well as reducing travel and education costs from $24,000 over two years to $10,000.

The Board also voted to eliminate its A2A software contract, an attendance monitoring program, while also cutting in half the superintendent’s supplies and contracted services budget from $160,000 for two years to 80,000.

The Board budget discussions were also notable in what the District would not touch: District arts and music programs, demoting directors to coordinators, adding furlough days to central staff, and cutting science teachers. The Board also refused to revisit any more school consolidations Tuesday.

The Board will meet again Thursday, November 15, its self-imposed deadline date for final budget reductions before presenting its final financial stabilization plan to the Los Angeles County Office of Education in December.

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