The drastic financial situation of the Pasadena Unified School District became painfully obvious Thursday night, February 15, after a presentation to the City Council from Dr. Brian McDonald.
By Garrett Rowlan
After some early dickering with the language for two ballots measures relating to the PUSD, the City Council heard first from Lisa Cavalier, of Collaborate Pasadena, and Lila Guirguis of the Office of the Young Child, followed by Dr. Vera Vignes, Vice-Chair, City of Pasadena Human Services Commission. Both presentations, while not exactly uplifting, stressed a willingness to identify and tackle problems, to be inclusive, and to keep PUSD at the forefront of progressive, data-driven school districts
The third presentation, with Dr. McDonald, was a more somber affair. Surely, the City Council knew what was coming—after all, Pasadena faces its own financial shortfall—still McDonald’s report was like a slap in the face. Indeed, as McDonald continued, the members of the Council, joined by PUSD board members, began to look like mourners at a funeral for a beloved uncle who’d died with heavy debts to pay.
Indeed, there are debts. The numbers were sobering, beginning with the drop-off in school attendance—roughly 2000 over seven years—owing to demographics, private schools, and charter schools. Furthermore, the budget projects a shortfall of some six million dollars owing mainly to PERS and STRS payouts.
These numbers require harsh solutions. McDonald, like some budgetary grim reaper, detailed the various remedies: cuts to the central office staff, cuts to school sites, and older teachers gently pushed out the door with early retirement incentives. “It’s a grim fiscal reality,” Dr. McDonald said.
More Draconian changes loom on the horizon, including the potential closing of a high school (a speculation by councilmember Gene Masuda that McDonald didn’t dismiss) and the leasing of assets to generate cash flow. Suggestion of salary cuts for existing personnel were not embraced by Dr. McDonald, who stated that workers were underpaid already. At times, McDonald seemed like a man in a dark room, groping for a light switch.
Mayor Terry Tornek said that the city’s financial was “eerily similar” to PUSD, that is, legacy payments weighing down existing services. “The difference is,” Tornek added, “schools have less opportunity to generate income. They are dependent on Sacramento.”
Outside City Hall, the night had turned cold, and a chill wind began to blow.
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