The Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education has voted to wait until next year to place an $850 million bond measure on the ballot.
In order to qualify for that election, which will also allow voters to choose school board candidates running for office or re-election, the measure must be prepared by August.
“It’s bad timing for this ask,” said School Board member Michelle Richardson Bailey. “While I agree that more funding is needed for the upkeep of our facilities, I believe March 3 is too soon to put a measure on the ballot so soon after Measure J.” Measure J was a companion initiative to Measure I, a three-quarter-cent sales tax increase which was passed by voters in the last election. Measure J allows the city to use proceeds of the tax hike, up to $7 million, to help fund local schools. So far, the money is being used to replenish the district’s state-mandated reserve fund.
Money from a bond measure could only be used for construction and upgrades of district facilities. The money cannot be used to pay salaries.
“This is really troubling,” said Board of Education President Lawrence Torres, “but we are just not ready yet.”
“As of now, 91 percent of PUSD schools were built 50 years ago or more,” said Chief Facilities Officer Nelson Cayabyab. “We still have the same electrical system. We still have the same asbestos ceilings. You can’t teach 21st-century learning if asbestos tile is falling on top of your head. We have to turn the culture around so the facilities stay ahead of all of the great programs you need to bring onboard.”
Local residents derided the board for failing to reach out to parents and local residents on the bond measure.
“It’s gargantuan,” Ross Selvidge, a former Pasadena City College Trustee, said of the proposed bond and the taxes it would impose on district residents living in Pasadena, Altadena and Sierra Madre. “You have already spent $650 million of Measure Y and Measure TT. Voters are not guaranteed what projects would be built and when they’ll be built.”
According to Selvidge, the $850 million bond would be the biggest property tax increase in the history of Pasadena, Altadena and Sierra Madre, amounting to a 5 to 6 percent property tax increase across the board for every parcel in the school district.
“The quickly thrown together projects in the staff report reflects no community input and attempts no prioritization of the most necessary projects,” said Laura Olhasso, government affairs director for the Pasadena-Foothills Association of Realtors.
If the bond measure were to pass, it would bring in about $212 million every three years for the district until 2029, according to a presentation by Cayabyab. Local Pasadena property owners would pay for the bond until 2052.
Local taxpayers are still paying for the $350 million Measure TT, which won’t be off the books until 2037. The debt on the $240 million Measure Y, which passed in 1997, has been paid.
Some of the money from those projects went to infrastructure projects at schools that were recently shuttered by the district due to low enrollment, which concerns some local residents about the district’s plans.
“The PUSD has two bond issues already for school repair,” said Altadena resident Steve Lamb. “We were told each of them would be all the money needed for 30 years. They are closing schools they have rehabbed for tens of millions of dollars. They can’t be relied upon to thoughtfully plan out building maintenance and use.”
A 2010 parcel tax effort that would have applied a $120 yearly tax to 59,000 parcels in the school district failed. Money from a parcel tax can go into the district’s general fund, but it takes a super majority of voters — 65 percent — to pass a parcel tax. It only takes 55 percent to pass a bond measure.
According to a recent survey conducted by Los Angeles-based FM3 Research for PUSD, 70 percent of those polled said they believe there is a need for additional funding of public schools, with nearly half of those people calling the need “great.”
Between July 30 and Aug. 5, 1,008 “likely voters” were surveyed online, and by landline phones and cell phones.
“I believe district leadership gets it that on issues like this community inclusion is necessary and community advocacy should be an integral part of the district’s culture,” said Richardson Bailey.
A property tax increase could drive more struggling families with school-age children out of the district causing a greater loss in funds, which are based on student daily attendance.
The district has been forced to close schools, cut programs and lay off teaches due to declining enrollment as parents move east, where housing is more affordable.
The PUSD has lost 1,170 students over the past five years. The district makes about $10,000 per student in average daily attendance funds from the state.
“Everything the district has done for 20 years is counterproductive to maintaining or increasing enrollment. Raising the cost of housing only makes the area more difficult for young families,” Lamb said. “Then leasing those rehabilitated facilities to charter schools instead of reducing class size and increasing quality only accelerates the district’s death cycle.” n