Pure politics is now the dominant factor determining PUSD board decisions, not community surveys, and not professional assessments of facilities.
By Maryann Young
The board recently voted to invest tens of millions of dollars in schools in NW Pasadena and adjacent Altadena that were in less need of repair than the schools on the outskirts of the district. Schools such as Don Benito and San Rafael have the most need of repair yet receive the least amount of bond money. The rhetoric of “where most students live is the most important factor” denounces the fact that about half of PUSD families choose schools outside their residence. Some members of the board seem to be trying to end open enrollment as it has come under criticism from fans of NW schools.
Some board members seem to despise certain areas of the district. They are willing to invest huge sums at two schools already modernized: over $34 million at Madison Elementary, and over $37 million at Longfellow Elementary while completely ignoring others.
Drive by Madison and Longfellow and look at them. They are quite attractive after two facilities’ bonds’ efforts at improving them. How is it possible that additional money would be spent on these schools since they’ve already experienced modernization?
Drive by San Rafael and Don Benito and look at their facilities. The total cost of building a brand-new school at Sierra Madre Middle School during Measure TT was $38.7 million. Think about what that money could do to modernize their old facilities including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) access. San Rafael and many parts of Don Benito lack this for their students.
The board appears to have unquestioningly accepted the project lists for these schools that were prepared by architects. These are wish lists, hence the high price tags. Previous boards had senior staff with facility bond experience that pushed back on the architects’ dreams and made projects reasonable. Some members of the board even use these bloated price tags in their dishonest arguments to close more schools, saying there isn’t enough money to further modernize all schools.
If the money is spread out rather than doing the entire wish lists at only a few schools, more could be accomplished. The upgrading of the track and field facilities at all four high schools could be done for less than the cost of one of these two elementary schools that they have chosen to fund. Some of these board members claim that a previous board didn’t ask the voters to approve enough money, when in fact the Measure O bond was the highest amount, $516 million, ever requested from voters. Measure Y, approved in 1997, was $240 million and Measure TT, approved in 2008, was $350 million. They truly have no shame with their revisionism. Measure O was indeed a big ask from voters, especially during a time of COVID (2020).
Dishonest board member op-ed
A board member has written a dishonest op-ed supporting this approach, despite her advocacy about the schools to stop school closures in 2019. She ignores the work of the previous two bonds, which included building two brand new schools and modernizing most. She uses the high cost wish lists to argue that they can’t improve all schools so some should be closed. How shameless, or just ignorant? She goes on to imply that the board is afraid of doing the right thing? PUSD has already closed eleven (11) schools in PUSD since 2005. Most of those closed were on the outskirts of the district.
In her op-ed, she states “Spending bond money responsibly today will earn the trust of the public when we need their support again in the future.” How does closing schools earn the trust of the public? How can parents enroll their kids at PUSD schools with confidence when board members keep threatening us with closures? How is it responsible of the board to vote to move ahead on projects that are clearly not in the greatest need of facility improvement? They tell us that we might have to wait for the next bond because there won’t be enough Measure O money for everything that Longfellow and Madison are getting plus what others need.
Doublespeak and wrong facts
Another board member has justified his vote by saying he won’t vote to leave the most disadvantaged students at a greater disadvantage. Besides the obvious doublespeak nature of this, it’s just wrong on the facts. Madison, where the highest percentage of disadvantaged students have long attended, has much better facilities than the two schools on the outskirts mentioned above. Don Benito has 58% disadvantaged students and is therefore a Title 1 school. These disadvantaged students who attend Don Benito would indeed be left at a greater disadvantage than their peers at Madison if Don Benito is not modernized now. His statement is actually the opposite of what is true. In reality, he is voting to give schools in his area money. True to form, he is making a purely political decision.
The board members are well aware that more integrated schools like Don Benito are better for all students. Why would they vote to starve more integrated schools of having adequate facilities? It defies logic.
Revenge and class warfare
It’s very disappointing that some of the board members’ operating policies seem to be revenge and class warfare. The board is supposed to support all students and families, not just those that they prefer because of their politics. Perhaps citizens should undertake a ballot initiative via signature-gathering to force the board to spend taxpayer money fairly so that all children have access to a certain acceptable standard of facilities conditions. The initiative process is one option in California when the policy makers go too far in one direction. I would sign it.
Maryann Young is a Don Benito parent and a Pasadena resident.
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