School's back in session, and the Pasadena Unified School District, which has to number amongst the most poorly run in the state, is back with more of the same old shenanigans. The PUSD, which controls over $300 million in Measure TT bond money designated for the building of school facilities, is famous here in Sierra Madre for threatening to cut back on its planned construction for the Middle School. The reason? A lack of necessary funding. All of that bond money somehow can't be stretched far enough to deliver on the promises that were made by the PUSD back when they were asking the voters to pass Measure TT. Which makes it look like they had been running a bait and switch operation all along. And not for the first time.
But budget shortfalls and other fiscal problems haven't stopped them from hiring a $312,000 a year consultant. Paid for out of, you got it, Measure TT money. This from the Pasadena Star News (click here):
PUSD Consultant to make more than $300,000 - A construction consultant hired by the school district to oversee the $350 million Measure TT bond program could make as much as $312,000 this year - more than the PUSD superintendent's salary. Consultant Robin Brown is being paid from the Measure TT capital improvement bond money approved by voters in 2008.
Now some Pasadena Unified School Board members are scratching their heads over why the district is doling out a six-figure consulting fee when Chief of Facilities David Azcarraga's job was created in 2009 specifically to oversee the Measure TT capital campaign.
His hiring in January came less than a year after red flags were raised in 2011 when a previous consultant, contractor SCMC Inc, billed the district for $824,860 for its work on Measure TT projects over three years.
It will be a miracle if any of this money actually reaches the schools at all. Of course, Measure TT was originally proposed because the previous school bond boondoggle, Measure Y, turned out to be less than what was needed. In part because significant chunks of it were woefully mismanaged, or even stolen. And I am sure there are those among us here in Sierra Madre who will be more than ready to tell us that another bond issue is just the thing to solve this shortfall as well.
Pasadena resident Wayne Lusvardi, who writes for the cutting edge state politics news site Calwatchdog.com, is responding here to an article that was published in the L.A. Times owned Pasadena Sun. An operation that apparently does not always care to publish reader feedback. Or, perhaps with all the bear sighting news they feel the need to report, there just isn't enough room. Here is what Wayne has to say:
In "what the Numbers Really Look Like" (Pasadena Sun, Aug. 19) Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) Board Member Scott Phelps says an $8 million cut in state funding cannot be absorbed without "negotiating a shorter school year and associated furloughs with our employees, both of which are highly undesirable."
Phelps' credibility is an issue. Contrary to PUSD's claims of teacher layoffs in 2009, there were no core teacher layoffs in 2009, there were no core teacher layoffs even though voters defeated the proposed Measure CC School Parcel Tax.
The state has reduced school funding statewide by billions of dollars by borrowing funds for the deficit in the state's general operating fund. What the proposed tax increase propositions on the November ballot are largely about is paying those loans back. But PUSD and other school districts have survived those cuts and there is no reason to believe they can't continue to do so.
What Phelps doesn't want to tell you is that any cuts would mainly fall on ancillary staff and building maintenance costs. Maintenance costs were vastly reduced due to PUSD spending about $1 billion in facility upgrades in the last 10 years. And we haven't experienced a corresponding rise in property values for that $1 billion in school upgrades.
According to the State Dept. of Education, the most comparable school district in California to PUSD in size of enrollment and proportion of English learner students is ABC School District in Cerritos. PUSD received $1,874 more per student each year in Federal, state and local funds, reflecting about $33.3 million more than ABC Unified.
Given the lack of credibility of PUSD, I would suggest to Mr. Phelps that he submit his case for more local school funding to a panel selected by the local Republican Club for review.
Moreover, I would suggest PUSD become a "Basic Aid School District" and go without state school funding just as San Marino does. This would put home-voters, not a school board stacked with special interest education consultants as Mr. Phelps, on the PUSD Board who could provide some political legitimacy for the need for local school funding. It's wonderful that school districts are more representative of the various ethnic groups in the community. But this has led to a lack of "consent of the governed" and consent of the taxed when it comes to requests for local school funding.
What PUSD lacks is not funding but political legitimacy.
Why I am starting to like Anthony Portantino
You know, he really does look like a Sacramento politician. Kinda portly and permanently be-suited, with a smile that never seems to leave his mug. But you know what? He tells the truth a lot, and in the political dystopia that is California these days that really makes him stand out.
You may recall not too long ago that Portantino went to war with the Democratic leadership of the California Assembly he belongs to over all kinds of secretive financial shenanigans hidden from the public. And despite everything that goon squad threw at him for his inconvenient truth addiction, he stuck to his guns and won.
And now he is telling the truth about the 710 Tunnel. While the likes of Chris Holden are waffling up a storm, old Anthony just tells it like it really is. This from the Pasadena Star News (click here):
Portantino calls for end to 710 project - In a strongly worded letter to the California Department of Transportation and the California Transportation Commission, Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-Pasadena, demanded that transportation leaders "put the brakes" on the 710 Freeway extension.
Portantino demanded that state and municipal transportation authorities "cease all activity relating to the advancement of the SR 710 extension. The SR 710 Study process has been mired in controversy since its inception. I have personally witnessed actions and activities by proponents of a tunnel option, which have been questionable, but more accurately, would be portrayed as biased and tainted," he said Wednesday.
Portantino accused Caltrans and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of misrepresenting "important information while hiding the true cost and benefit of this project from the public."
Now here is where it gets really good. If Anthony Portantino ever decides to give up politics, a wonderful career in blogging could be waiting for him.
"When you have a project of this magnitude, with this many unanswered questions, manipulations and false information, one has to wonder why decision makers aren't immediately putting a halt to this insanity," Portantino said. "It's a fraud being perpetrated upon the taxpayers of California at the expense of taxpayers and the quality of life of those neighborhoods in Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley which will be devastated by a project that is unwelcome and disastrous."
At last, an elected state official speaks the truth about Caltrans, Metro, and their Godforsaken tunnel. Be still my heart.
There is also an article today in the Star News (click here) regarding Metro's big decision yesterday to drop a number of the 710 Tunnel options, including any surface routes. Which means they can now begin their environmental studies on the 710 "Hole to Nowhere" Tunnel. Something which was their real aim all along.
A great information site on the 710 Tunnel
Our friends over at Pasadena Adjacent have created a great web page covering the latest up to date information on the "hole to nowhere." It includes information on studies linking cancer rates to traffic of the kind heading our way from the 710 Corridor should the hole ever get dug. Check it all out at http://www.no710.com/.