In an Aug. 21 letter, Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent Brian McDonald announced the school district will once again be forced to discuss closing schools.

“To deepen student access to PUSD’s excellent programs at every site, the PUSD Board of Education convened the limited-term Master Planning & Boundaries Subcommittee in November 2018 to review programs and school capacity and develop recommendations on the number and location of school sites our district should keep open in the next five to 10 years,” McDonald wrote.

McDonald is currently on paid leave dealing with an undisclosed ailment. He blamed rising housing costs and lower birth rates on the district’s plunging enrollment, which shrank by 374 students this year, and by 1,259 students over the past five years.

Local housing costs have skyrocketed in that time. In some buildings, a one-bedroom apartment rents for well over $2,000. The rising costs have forced many parents to pull their children out of the district and move east to the Inland Empire, where housing is cheaper.

“Our board is facing tough decisions that will impact students and families across our district,” McDonald wrote. “We must do more so that every student has access to educational opportunities in order to achieve.”

According to the letter, PUSD has an average of 630 students per campus in schools in Altadena, Pasadena and Sierra Madre. Neighboring school districts average 900 to 1,000 students per campus. Statewide, enrollment averages 519 for elementary, 766 for middle schools, and 1,331 for high schools. 

Last year, the school board voted to close Cleveland Elementary School. Cleveland experienced a 46 percent drop in enrollment since 2016 and only had 99 students when the board voted to close it. Franklin and Wilson middle schools were also considered for closure last year.  Only 183 students attend Franklin, which has experienced a 25 percent enrollment drop over the past two years. Wilson’s population has decreased 15 percent over the same time period and currently has 485 students.

Those two schools could be a focal point when district staff presents its recommendations for school closures and consolidations to school board members on Sept. 19.

“While we have addressed right-sizing our district with school consolidations several times over the last decade, the board is taking a long-term view to ensure that every child in PUSD has access to stable and excellent educational opportunities in the years to come,” McDonald wrote. “The difficult decisions of today will lay a strong and stable foundation for the long-term future of our schools and community.”