• a knife cutting through the word budget with a logo of the local school district

      PUSD budget (Photo – PUSD logo)

      On June 27, the PUSD Board approved the district’s budget for 2024-25, but didn’t mention the main factor in its deficits.

      By Todd Maddison

      The Pasadena Unified School District has been deficit spending for many years, but because of the large amount of COVID relief funds provided by the federal government, it was able to accumulate unusually large reserves.  It is now spending down those large reserves. The approved budget shows deficit spending of $50 million for 2024-25, $22 million for 2025-26 and $12 million for 2026-27. The district issued a statement following the meeting about the budget and the fiscal stabilization plan (layoffs) that the budget includes, saying it “Includes more than $24 million in reductions to the district’s restricted general fund due to the ending of COVID-era state and federal funds” and that “The projected deficit is due to a combination of anticipated reductions in State funding, the absorption of the cost of services (such as transportation and custodial) previously funded by COVID-era monies, rising costs, and declining enrollment.”

      In my opinion, the communique is not transparent about the primary factor driving the deficits. The expiration of Covid funds has been known for several years. The communique’s language about reductions in state funding is misleading, as state funding isn’t being reduced.  It is rather a reduction in the growth of funding – not an actual decrease in funds, just lower growth than in recent years. As correctly noted in a Colorado Boulevard article published during the school board’s approval this past winter of a large number of staff layoffs but not publicly acknowledged by the district, the biggest single factor in the ongoing deficits are the raises given to all district employees over the last three years. For most employees, they were given 28% in bonus raises in addition to the raises already built-in to their salary schedules—known as “step and column” increases—many of them received during this same time period per their unions’ agreements with the district. The superintendent’s communique obliquely refers to this as “rising costs,” as if they were a fait accompli over which the district had no choice. This is of course not true.

      PUSD’s employee groups demand salary increases and claim that they aren’t paid enough relative to other people with comparable educations. The data, however, doesn’t show this to be true. In 2022 the median total pay of a PUSD certificated employee was $94,274 according to the districts’ own payroll data as provided to Transparent California.  Meanwhile the US Census Bureau shows comparably educated Los Angeles County residents made $85,010. Therefore, prior to these two years’ of 10% bonus raises, district teachers were already making about $9,000 more than they would make pursuing a different career with the same degree.  And PUSD teachers receive about $17,000/year more in contributions to their retirement than private employers give their workers, making the comparable pay differential $25,000 between teachers and private employees.

      The question here is whether bonus raises of this magnitude are something parents and employees would have supported if they had been told the potential consequences. The county-required and board-approved bargaining disclosure for the teachers’ raise, approved by the board at its December 14 meeting, asked the district to outline the “specific impacts (positive or negative) on instructional and support programs” (including possible staff reductions) if the agreement were approved. That question was left unanswered by the district, even though at the same December meeting where the raises and this required disclosure were approved, the board approved the district’s first interim budget, and that budget showed that $36.4 million of the district’s reserve was going to be used to pay for the costs of the 10% raises in the 24-25 and 25-26 years. Thus, this past year’s 10% raise is projected to cost roughly $18.2 million a year. Together with the 10% raise given in 22-23 and 8% raise given in 21-22, the cost of the last three years of raises is thus about $51 million in ongoing costs, which is very close to the size of the 24-25 budget deficit!

      It is apparent that the large number of layoffs that were required this past Spring, in order to keep the district solvent over the next three years were also to be able to afford these large raises. Last fall PUSD knew this was likely to happen.  They chose to ignore the consequences in order to placate its employee groups’ demands for more money.  And soon after, we saw the predictable layoff of a large number of employees.

      The children of PUSD, who have lost services that the laid off staff provided, deserve better than this. The children deserve to be put ahead of adults’ demands for more and more money for themselves. As is the case in many districts, PUSD’s communications and board members speak frequently about putting children first, and yet it is clear that adults really come first when it comes to where resources are used.

      Todd Maddison is the Director of Research for Transparent California, a founding member of the Parent Association advocacy group, and a longtime activist in improving K-12 education.

       

       

       

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