Saturday, February 10, 2018
Pasadena Facebook Page In An Emoji Uproar Over Tattler Revelations About Pasadena Unified Going Bankrupt
The photo on the left was lifted from a Facebook page called "Pasadena Politics," which is a rather elite members-only site that caters to a clientele that often ostentatiously claims to be more highly informed about the goings-on in the Rotten Rose than the likes of you. It is a screenshot of my op-ed column as it originally appeared on the front page of the Pasadena Independent, sister publication to the Sierra Madre Weekly. As of this typing it has caused close to 40 emotional and emoji-laden comments on the Pasadena Politics page, many of which are from parents of PUSD students that apparently have been stunned by the news.
Why weren't they told about this before, you ask? Do read on, friends. There is a reason.
I checked in late this week with Sierra Madre's always communicative City Manager, Gabe Engeland, and asked him if he had heard anything more about the matter from anyone associated with the Pasadena Unified School District. Including taciturn resident elected Board of Education member Larry Torres. His answer was no, nobody has said a word to him. Nor is this matter agendized for next Tuesday evening's City Council meeting.
I had previously forwarded to Gabe the now famous letter put out by the Los Angeles County Office of Education (link). This is the agency that first broke the news of PUSD's near-imminent date with financial insolvency. The City Manager's reply at that time was rather succinct. "That letter doesn’t paint a pretty picture."
I do hope he passed it on to others.
Here are a couple of passages from the letter that offer some details on the PUSD's possible fiscal collapse. First, some not very happy numbers.
And what is the cause of so dire a report? That's easy. Larry Torres and nearly all members of the Board of Education were literally giving away the farm. Mostly to the very same people that so generously sent big dollars their way when they were out campaigning for their Board seats.
The PUSD's Board of Education might not be as communicative about this matter as we are at both The Tattler and the Sierra Madre Weekly, but that doesn't mean at least one Board member isn't willing to now chat about it on Facebook.
Pasadena's own, the often excessively verbose Patrick Cahalan, who was elected to the Board of Education the same year as Larry Torres, might not like to talk to any City Hall employees, newspapers, blogs or radio stations, but he can certainly let loose within the controlled confines of a closely moderated members-only Facebook page. Especially now that The Tattler has let the cat out of the bag.
Here is one interesting exchange. It deals with the Special Education budget, which is now being literally hacked into pieces. Note how many different times Cahalan blames other government agencies for problems he himself bears some responsibility for.
Marlene Benites: We are a hot mess!!! And the only ones paying the price are our students and educators ....... especially our special education population 😠😠😠. They had to see this coming. It didn't happen over night 🙄🙄🙄🙄.
Patrick Cahalan: The Special Education budget went up from the adopted June budget to the first interim budget in December. This was a significant increase in SPED which actually drove a good chunk of our operating deficit up to crisis levels. I am not blaming the SPED community for this; those kids need those services. Ultimately, this is the fault of the state and the federal government: our funding for special education from those sources has been flat at $19 million since 2013-14 even while the cost of the SELPA has gone up to over $53 million.
We have pulled $147 million our of our general budget to fund increases in SPED costs in the last five years. And it legitimately isn't enough. That, plus PERS and STRS pension contribution increasing by over 300% (from 8.25% to 23-25% depending upon bargaining unit) between now and 2023-24 are the two biggest issues. The PERS/STRS evaluation changed in January 2017 and the governor's budget wasn't finalized until June, well after the March 15th deadline to lay people off.
As far as not communicating any of this previously? Cahalan has this to say:
We have been talking about huge cuts since June. The board meeting videos are on the web site.
Apparently if you wanted to know about things like the PUSD's impending collision with insolvency, you would have needed to wade through many long hours of opaque Board of Education meeting video footage to get to that news. Obviously you must be lazy, and the fault is yours.
Cahalan then launched into the following fairly lengthy screed, one that he believes sheds light on some of the problems. See if you can make any sense of it.
Patrick Cahalan: Jonathan and I have talked about our district's spending multiple times and (for the record) I agree with him that we don't spend enough on direct instruction and we spend too much on administration.
The main reasons why we underpay our teachers aren't related as much to central administration costs as they are student support services, however. Cutting administrative cost is necessary and important, but it's not going to free up sufficient funds to, say, lower our class sizes in middle school. We have already cut the Chief Academic Officer position (technically, we didn't fill it), and we've merged functions under Dr. Blanco's office.
We had to hire a new HR Chief, however, because we have open contracts and we're going to have to lay off a number of people this year, which will institute a lot of bumping, all of which needs to be processed by an experienced HR person. There will undoubtedly be other changes in central admin. We're laying off three director positions as part of the fiscal stabilization plan, that will cut our admin percentage noticeably.
There are three big increasing costs that are impossible to deny: increasing health and welfare costs (which thanks to action at the federal level are undoubtedly going to go up more next year than projected), increasing pension costs, and increasing special education costs. All three of those dwarf savings we would get by eliminating the other inefficiencies in the district (which, again, we still need to do and I'm not suggesting otherwise).
Student support services take up a much larger share of our budget than they do in those other districts that he mentions. We spend a *lot* of money on transportation costs and student support services that Arcadia does not. Point of fact, we just voted, as part of the fiscal stabilization plan, to eliminate a large chunk of general education bus service, to bring that cost more in line with neighboring districts.
It's arguable that spending the money on classroom size reduction is more effective than some of these student support services, and in some cases (depending upon the support service in question)... I personally agree.
However, it's also important to note that a lot of these services are advocated for by stakeholders in the district, many of whom are parents and demand that their own voices be heard as well - justifiably so.
That general ed bus budget cut is going to affect a number of our students' families. They're going to be unhappy with that cut, and that's understandable.
We had to eliminate a lot of the TOSA positions. For years we've received feedback that our certificated out-of-the-classroom ratio is too high. TOSA positions are ones that teachers, generally, actually *like*, because they like coaching and curriculum support. I've received negative email from teachers asking me to keep those positions. But that's not in-the-classroom instruction either.
We are cutting the Ombuds position this year. That's an administrative position that I lobbied hard to add two years ago. I would have liked to see the position stand for another couple of years to see if it would, indeed, lower our litigation load, but given the state of the budget it's simply something we can't afford.
Was that position unnecessary administration? Was that a pet project of mine? Was it more effective than adding three aides? That depends upon how you view the tradeoffs, I suppose. I advocated for it because the special education community *wanted* that position, however, not because I wanted to add to central administration.
It's entirely possible to have conflicting opinions about what is the best thing to do to tackle some of our problems, all in good faith.
Cahalan then says something that I found rather troubling. That being he doesn't think this is really any of your business. Oh, that and dig the crazy acronyms.
The proper place to hammer out these conversations is really not in the newspaper, and it's not here on Facebook, but in the parent and community groups that exist for these purposes: the CAC, the AAPC, the District Advisory Council, the DELAC, the LCAP PAC.
These groups all have public meetings and I highly encourage *everyone* in this community who is interested in public education to participate in them.
CAC indeed. That certainly does put the PUSD Board of Education's position justifying embargoing news of its financial disaster into a nutshell. Keep it out of the newspapers and other media that taxpayers such as yourself depend upon for information, and restrict the conversation to acronymic and obscure special interest bailiwicks that officials such as himself can more easily control.
I personally would not agree with that.
Posted by The Moderator at 5:30 AM