‘Under the Time Gun,’ Pasadena Unified Passes Financial Stabilization Plan

The austerity plan, mandated by L.A. County Office of Education with a February 26 deadline, was prompted by the County’s conclusion the District faced immediate risk of insolvency

Published : Friday, February 9, 2018 | 6:21 AM

Board Member Kenne, at right, discusses Fiscal Stabilization Plan with Board President Roy Boulghourjian and Member Patrick Cahalan. Kenne was the only vote against the plan.

Board Member Kenne, at right, discusses Fiscal Stabilization Plan with Board President Roy Boulghourjian and Member Patrick Cahalan. Kenne's was the only vote against the plan.

[Editor's Note: This story contained an error in its original form, which has been corrected.  In describing the 2017-2018 cuts, the original story misstated that 33 Special Education instructional coaches would be laid off. In fact, the plan actually calls laying off 53 Special Education instructional aides.]

Facing what the Los Angeles County Office of Education described as the risk of insolvency, the Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education approved a Financial Stabilization Plan on Thursday evening, two weeks ahead of the County’s deadline.

The District was notified January 19 by the Office of Education that it had until February 26 to submit such a plan.

Candi Clark, Chief Financial Officer for the Los Angeles County Office of Education, told Pasadena School Board President Roy Boulghourjian, that the District was apparently unable even to meet some of its basic financial obligations and pay into a state-mandated reserve fund.

“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,” Clark wrote.

The motion to approve the Fiscal Stabilization Plan as presented was passed 5-1 at the Thursday’s Special Meeting, with Board Member Kimberly Kenne voting “no,” after voicing a number of concerns.

As Superintendent Dr. Brian McDonald wrote in an email to the Pasadena Unified community earlier this week, “Our district is facing a tough fiscal reality: flat or decreasing revenue in the midst of rising costs, long-term unsustainable structures that increase spending automatically, and a higher bar for student learning and serving the greater needs of our students.”

McDonald recounted Thursday that the District began the year with a $5.7 million deficit, with an $10-12 million in additional cuts necessitated over the next two years. McDonald told the Board that the Superintendent’s Budget Advisory Committee has been working on plans to reduce costs and services, and trying to increase revenues in the face of decreasing attendance.

Although the target for reductions was between $15 and $16 million, according to Pasadena Unified Chief Business Officer Bernadette Griggs, the total projected reduction achieved by the Fiscal Stabilization Plan was $14,242,176.

The approved plan projects savings of $6,956,747 for the 2017-2018 budget through new revenues and cost reductions.

The 2017-2018 cuts include laying off 53 Special Education aides, ongoing Teamsters furloughs, an ongoing board budget realignment, and a one-time “personnel commission budget realignment.”

In addition, numerous positions will be eliminated or not filled, in numerous departments, from academics to security to custodians.

Although McDonald told the Board that the “list of cuts is not final” and that “things could change,” he was adamant when pressed by Kenne about the necessity of a vote Thursday.

Kenne, who had a long list of questions regarding the plan and planned cuts, told McDonald and the Board optimistically, that, in addition to the various “worst case scenarios” discussed, that the Board Finance Committee should also prepare a plan based on “best case scenarios.”

Board Member Patrick Callanan agreed with Kenne to some degree, saying that “PUSD is responding to all of this, as opposed to leading the way through the problem.”

“We are making too many decisions under the time gun,” he added.

But McDonald responded, “We have been thoughtful throughout this process. We have to continue to look for the fat and make cuts, but not ones that jeopardize academics.”

McDonald continued, “The work is not over, but this plan sends the right message to the County that we are doing the right thing.”

While a motion by Board member Scott Phelps to approve the plan was on the table, Kenne attempted to introduce a motion to vote on the plan in two sections — 2017-2018 and 2018-2019, but the motion received no support from the Board. Briggs told Kenne that the County “wants to see all plans, especially 2018-2019.”

“It goes without saying that no one wants these cuts,” said Board President Roy Boulghourjian, following the Board discussion. “We are hoping that these are the last.”

The Board also discussed the effect of a proposed City sales tax measure which might appear on the November 2018 ballot, a portion of which would provide revenue to the District, and in turn, immediately reverse some cuts and restore programs. That sales tax measure, however, was tabled “for more discussion” at last week’s City Council meeting and there is no public timeline for its return to the Council agenda.



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