The people behind Organize Sierra Madre's Schools are parents of children who attend public schools here in Sierra Madre, and they are outraged at the cuts that are suddenly being made to the funding for school facilities renovation and construction. Apparently money that was supposed to help Sierra Madre's Middle School kids get out of those trailers and back into real classrooms is no longer there. That is, if it ever was. Here is how they explain it in their e-mail:
It is time to get organized and advocate for our schools! I hope you will join the fight for fair treatment of our Sierra Madre schools! As many of you know, there are major cuts proposed to the PUSD Measure TT projects budget and these cuts could have a major impact on the future of our schools. We need you to get involved to change the way the PUSD Board of Education and the Facilities Sub-Committee of the Board, and to think about our schools.
In this weekend's edition of the only occasionally lucid Mountain Views News, the loss of funding is explained in this manner:
At a planned meeting of the SMS School Site Council on Wednesday, parents were surprised to learn that the Pasadena Unified School District would not receive $60 million dollars in matching funds from the State. Those dollars were to match the money generated by the bond measure passed in 2010, Measure TT, for school construction. As a result, according to PUSD Communications Director Adam Wolfson, this has forced the District to decrease it's construction budget by 20% for all District projects.
Just to put this all into its naturally absurd perspective, Measure TT raised $350,000,000 for school construction. The previous school bond money raising venture, Measure Y, brought in $220,000,000. We are talking well over half a billion dollars for school renovations. So where did all of that money go? Is there going be some sort of accounting made available to us soon?
Ask yourself these questions. Can it really be that the loss of a mere $60 million in state money will cause Sierra Madre's kids to spend an eternity in "temporary" trailers, and not in the fully equipped and modern schoolrooms voters were promised when they cast ballots in favor of both Measure TT and Measure Y? Despite the costs to property owners over the next several decades? Was this a bait and switch on the part of the PUSD? Were we dealt with in a less than honorable way, and then only to get our money?
This also brings up the matter of Measure A, which will be on the ballot this June, and the whole question of "sub-geographic districting." The representative for Sierra Madre on the Districting Task Force, which concocted Measure A, is Bart Doyle. This appointment was made at the strong insistence of the previous City Council, sans MaryAnn MacGillivray. Both John Buchanan and Josh Moran insisted that Bart be chosen to replace Joe Mosca there. It is important to note that Bart was (or perhaps still is) a member of both the PUSD Facilities Sub-Committee and the Construction Committee. Both of which are deeply involved in the school construction debacle here.
Here is how Pasadena Star News writer Brian Charles described the end product of the Districting Task Force in an April 7 piece entitled "Pick Your Poison."
Voters in the Pasadena Unified School District will again vote to decide how they will elect their school board. The current system, a quasi at-large voting mechanism, has been under attack for more than a year. The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights said PUSD was "vulnerable to a lawsuit" if they don't switch to a ward system similar to the composition of the (Pasadena) City Council.
The push is for diversity. Creating voting districts around "communities of interest," jargon for black people, Latinos, rich people and poor people, would assume that everyone in the community is represented on the board. But beware of Balkanization. It's currently possible to influence all seven members on the board since they run citywide, and each voter in the district can in effect flip the board every two years.
When you can only vote for one board member, it might be hard to get the other six to return your calls. Stay tuned.
Should Measure A be approved by the voters it will allow for the election of 7 representatives to the Board of Education from sub-districts. This would replace the at-large system we have now. Each sub-district thereby having its own exclusive representative, which is fine I suppose.
But here's the catch. Most of these sub-districts would elect their representatives in 2013. Sierra Madre and the portion of Pasadena we will share our sub-district with will not elect its representative until 2015. Apparently this was done with the full approval of Sierra Madre's powers that be since all Bart Doyle did when this arrangement was shoved through at the very last minute was sit quietly and stare off into the distance.
MaryAnn MacGillivray asked that Bart Doyle come before the City Council and explain this lamentable development, and how is it that he did not include anything about the matter in his recent PowerPoint presentation. So far we've heard nary a peep on the topic from our Districting Task Force representative.
What this means is that between the years 2013 and 2015 Sierra Madre will, unlike others areas, have no local representation on the Board of Education. Rather we would be left in the pale soft hands of Ed Honowitz and Tom Selinske. Two gentleman who I do not believe would have any problem shafting Sierra Madre on the matter of school bond construction money. After all, why should they care any more about Sierra Madre now than they have in the past?
It is during this 2013 to 2015 time period that Measure TT money will be fully diced, sliced and given out to whomever these people, along with the representatives of other sub-geographical districts, deem fit. Should Measure A pass we apparently will not have real representation until after all of that money is already spent.
You really have to ask why this is. Remember, with these folks it is always about the money. Half a billion dollars is a rich pile that will always attract some very colorful flies. And the buzzing honey bunch that we have now are the same players we have always had. They never seem to go away, and are only here for that one reason. Money. School kids and their concerned parents are merely hostages to be manipulated when need be.
Another intriguing factor. One law firm whose members are causing school districts to adopt a sub-districting style of Board of Ed representation is Latham and Watkins. The same law firm that employs our new City Councilman, John Harabedian. The reason for this interest is that, in their opinion, the rights of minority students are not properly respected under regional representation. Something alluded to in the Star News article cited above. And school districts not changing to a sub-districting way of doing things (which most already have), just might get sued by attorneys from Latham & Watkins. That is the threat.
The organization pushing for this is called the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (click here). It's Board Chairman is John F. Walker, who is an emeritus partner at Latham and Watkins. Amos Hartston, who also serves on the Board of Directors of the Lawyer's Committee, is a Latham and Watkins attorney who handles a lot of immigration work for the firm, much of it pro bono. He has also done work in securing the release of political prisoners in countries run by some pretty dreadful and cruel people.
Before any immediate conclusions are drawn though, I think we need to take a good look at this relationship. The involvement of Latham and Watkins attorneys here (and elsewhere) could mean better representation for communities long held hostage by the kinds of oligarchies running PUSD type organizations. Which certainly describes Sierra Madre. Having someone from our community on the PUSD Board of Education is not necessarily a bad thing, at least in my opinion.
No, the problem here is that we are being called upon by certain parties to vote in favor of this Measure A which, as currently written, would deny real representation to Sierra Madre on the PUSD Board of Education at an extremely critical time.
I would hope that our new Latham & Watkins employed City Councilman will recognize the injustice in this and do something about it before it is too late. As the matter stands, I know I could never vote for Measure A. And I would encourage everyone I know to cast a "No" vote as well.
There really is no other available option right now.