A field with a school building in the background

      Eliot Arts sports field (Photo – Staff)

      The district is in the early stages of implementing facilities improvements financed by a 2020 voter-approved facilities and technology bond.

      By Juan Pablo Albán

      Spending of the over $500 million bond has mostly been on the technology improvements including refreshing student and staff computers and improving technology infrastructure.

      About $450 million of the bonding authority remains.

      The district’s facilities master plan has been in development for over a year, gathering input from various stakeholders and looking at data. Its planning consultants have recently produced some very questionable estimates of enrollment declines over the next five years at various schools. With this backdrop and the establishment of its priorities for the bond spending, the district has a great opportunity to show that it values equity and safety for all students and staff.

      A great opportunity for the District

      One aspect of fundamental equity/fairness and safety that the district could demonstrate—as it has done in the past—is to equip all of its high schools with similar athletic facilities. Athletic facilities as positive extra-curricular experiences are a big reason many students say they enjoy school. The district added new artificial turf soccer/football fields and synthetic tracks at John Muir High and Pasadena High during previous facilities improvements years ago, and a new track but no improved field at Blair High. The district improved the gyms/basketball facilities at Pasadena High and Marshall High under a previous bond as well.  The district also built new gyms at McKinley K-8 and what was then Washington Middle School–now Octavia Butler Magnet. Various other athletic facilities improvements have occurred.

      The district should continue this effort by installing a new track and field facility at Marshall, whose track and field are old and unsafe. Blair’s field is also unsafe. A staff member actually injured herself walking on it.  These are basic safety issues that would demonstrate the district’s professed values of safety and equity. Three schools, Pasadena High, John Muir High and Blair High, have pools for their aquatics programs, and may all be in need of upgrades. Blair’s pool is not a regulation size and has peeling fiberglass that students notice on their skin each time they swim.  Marshall does not have a pool, but it is not as high a priority as getting their fields and track upgraded.

      Schools should have the ability to decide where to spend equal amounts of funding on their facilities, taking into account a long-range view of equality that includes recent spending under the prior and the current facilities bonds.

      Further improvements

      During the months of conversations about the facilities master plan, some district leaders have been putting forth statements about what is possible without looking at costs. One such statement that has been made is “We can’t afford to modernize all the high schools.”  This is probably not true given that all four schools have already received improvements under the last two facilities bonds, so the costs to do more at each site would likely be for further improvements, not for disproportionately large total makeovers.

      Another is “We can’t afford to modernize all of the high schools’ athletic facilities, as that would take the whole bond.”  This has also not been shown to be true. Upgrades to tracks and fields, for example, are not hugely expensive.  The synthetic tracks and fields installed at John Muir High and Pasadena High were on the order of one to two million dollars each.  The Blair track was less, on the order of a million dollars because a new field was not installed. Pool upgrades are not super costly either. If approximately $450 million dollars of bonding authority remains from the voters, these upgrades would not make a huge dent in that amount. Thus these statements are not factual in nature.

      Prioritize athletic facilities improvements

      The district should prioritize these athletic facilities improvements at schools that haven’t received improvements that other schools have received and/or that lack similar facilities as other schools. These same values of equity and safety should be applied to the broader improvements that the bond can finance. Some schools, like San Rafael Elementary and Don Benito Elementary, have received very little improvements under previous bonds. These schools should receive the upgrades that other schools have received. That would be the equitable and safety-conscious thing to do for all students and staff.

      Juan Pablo Albán is an attorney at Pasadena-based Stuart Alban Law PC, Blair parent, and former candidate for the PUSD Board.

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