Superintendent: School Closings Off the Table, Indefinitely

Superintendent McDonald said the School Board has opted to ‘indefinitely postpone’ discussions about any school consolidations

Published : Monday, March 19, 2018 | 5:38 AM

Pasadena Unified School District

Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent Brian McDonald said in a Friday email blast to the PUSD community that the Board of Education has opted to indefinitely postpone exploring any school closures to save money.

McDonald’s announcement came the day after a special Board meeting which heard a committee recommend “consolidating,” or closing, five district schools.

Dozens of local parents packed the School District Board meeting room and hallways Thursday night to protest the Superintendent’s School Consolidation and Boundary Committee’s recommendation to close Wilson Middle School, Blair High School, Jefferson Elementary, Cleveland Elementary, and Franklin Elementary beginning in the 2019-2020 school year.

Speaker after speaker spoke to the Board, fearing their school would be consolidated.

“What am I going to do? Where will my child go?” said one mother of an autistic child, who had recently found a middle school program with which she is pleased.

“How is closing schools going to help anything?” she asked the Board.

Parent Sonia Guerrero told the Board, “We are very concerned about the possibility of Franklin closing. We are filled with anxiety and we are scared. Please save our little neighborhood school.”

Felita Kealing, another Pasadena Unified parent, told the board to “think about culture,” as opposed to programs, explaining that schools like Marshall Fundamental have a culture, and “culture eats strategy for lunch.”

A key component of the Consolidation Committee’s report was an online survey of District parents.

“The committee requested an online survey which was administered by Cooperative Strategies, and a total of 1,415 responses were collected over a period of 10 weeks.

“Overall,” said the recommendation, “the responses to the surveys were what the committee expected, but there was a moderate level of support for consolidation, which did exceed the committee’s expectations.”

Scott Leopold of Cooperative Strategies told the Board that the survey comments, which took up nearly a dozen pages in its report, ranged from “Please don’t close our school,” to “Close our school, for the love of Pete!”

Board members reacted to the public comments and the report.

School Board President Roy Boulghourjian asked McDonald if the Board could refuse to “accept any of the choices we were given and follow other options?”

McDonald said that was possible. He explained there are other revenue-generating possibilities the District needs to explore further, primarily related to what he described as the District’s valuable real estate holdings, which could avert the need to close schools.

Those options should be fully leveraged first, before school closings are explored in detail, he argued.

McDonald said the topic of school closings should be “tabled,” to brief applause and cheers.

Board member Kimberly Kenne reacted by saying that, given the length of time required to generate detailed school closure plans and the size of looming budget deficits, tabling advance planning might deprive the Board of the ability to react properly in the future. She said she did not agree that the plans should be tabled.

Board member Patrick Cahalan suggested that the creation of a timeline for considering school closures should be agendized for a future Board meeting, so that parents and administrators could all relax and not worry about any consolidation surprises and could plan accordingly.

The Board did not vote on accepting the Committee’s report, because it was an information-only, non-voting item.

The Board also did not give Superintendent McDonald any clear directions on how to proceed forward in regards to the closings.

After Friday morning resulted in conflicting opinions of what would happen next with the Committee’s report, McDonald issued his email saying that consolidation plans had been tabled.

“The general consensus was that we should postpone the decision,” clarified Boulghourjian on Friday afternoon, after the Superintendent issued his email blast. “Dr. McDonald said ‘indefinitely,’ probably because no specific time period was mentioned.”

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