The City of Pasadena will start making Measure J payments destined for the Pasadena Unified School District this month, according to City Manager Steve Mermell.
“We will transfer one-third of Measure I funds monthly,” said Mermell said in an email interview with Pasadena Now. “For the first year of the agreement the City Council guaranteed that this amount will be at least $5 million.”
The money will be wire transferred first to the Los Angeles County Office of Education, and then distributed to the school district.
“To our knowledge, this is the first time we’re receiving money directly from a city,” said County spokesperson Nimfa Rueda. “But this time it’s coming from the city and it’s fine with us. We’re just going to deposit to the district’s account, but it’s not our normal process.”
Rueda said “It’s up to the district” how the funds are used.
Last November, voters overwhelmingly passed Measure I, which called for a three-quarter cent city sales tax increase, and Measure J, an advisory measure which recommended that one-third of the new tax revenues be shared by the City with the Pasadena Unified School District.
The measures were placed on the ballot to help the City and the struggling School District manage mounting budget woes over the next few years, as the City confronts increasing pension costs and the School District is plagued with shrinking attendance rates that drag down funding.
In fact the District teetered on the brink of being taken over by the County Office of Education and might have been had it failed to come up with an adequate reserve in its budgets through 2021.
District officials were forced to cut programs and fire more than 100 teachers as they searched for ways to save more than $10 million over the next three years to meet state requirements.
PUSD still faces shrinking enrollments and increasing State Calpers costs.
According to Mayor Terry Tornek, the City is committed to helping the district.
The Measure J tax payments are “not the end of the process,” Tornek said, but “just part of the process.”
“So the City’s effort and partnership with the school district, it was not just about, okay, we got Measure J passed, here’s the money. Good luck!” Tornek said.
“We continue to have meetings with school board members to talk about issues of mutual concern. The staffs are deeply engaged, in terms of cooperating on a variety of issues. We’re going to continue to do everything we can as a city to support the school district.”
Last Thursday, the Pasadena Board of Education approved its 2019-2020 fiscal year budget, and agreed to use Measure J funds to help restore a number of programs and staff positions, and add to the District’s reserves.
The approved budget, presented by Chief Business Officer Leslie Barnes, shows total revenues of $172.8 million against total expenditures of $179 million, setting a deficit spending level of $6.2 million.
“This is the first year we won’t be under the control of the County,” remarked Board Member Scott Phelps, referring to the recent hands-on oversight of the L.A. County Office of Education.