I recall watching a television show late one Sunday night back in the mid-2000s featuring James A. Baker III, a former secretary of state, secretary of the treasury and two-time presidential chief of staff, among other top political roles he’s played.
I can’t remember anymore what the topic was, but during the discussion Baker had cause to use a phrase which he probably learned from his days as a US Marine.
The native Texan and George H. W. Bush backer asked the talking head interviewer if he knew what the Seven Ps were, and he said no, he did not.
To that, Baker said in that inimitable and endearing Texas drawl of his, “The Seven Ps are prior proper planning prevents piss-poor performance.”
For all I can recall of that otherwise unimportant TV appearance Baker very well might have been talking about any number of national bumbles, not the least of them letting down our guard during 9/11 and the decision to invade Iraq just more than a year after that.
Never in a million years would I have guessed that 15 years later Baker’s words to live by could easily be applied to how the Pasadena Unified School District and the city of Pasadena planned (or didn’t plan) to use nearly $7 million from the $21 million expected to be raised by a three-quarter cent sales tax increase approved by voters last November.
The sorry fact is, like many things regarding the operation of local schools, “prior proper planning” had nothing to do with it.
It was as though the city officials who pushed the sales tax hike, Measure I, and the intended recipients of a third of those projected proceeds, the Board of Education, had no expectation of winning public support for the new tax. And why should they? The school board had already been warned by the county Office of Education that they were so fiscally irresponsible that the district might be taken over by the county until it got its money managing act together. Simply put, they didn’t deserve that money, and they knew it, hence they did not plan on how to utilize those funds.
The public, however, had other ideas. They clearly want public schools to succeed, and they wanted the district to have that money, approving Measure I by 67.8 percent of the votes cast. Advisory Measure J, which called for a third of the projected revenues from Measure I to be used to help local schools, passed by an even wider margin, 70.4 percent.
In perilous fiscal times like these, few could have seen that coming, apparently including members of the school board, which as it happened had not one clue as to when they would receive the funds, how much money they would get, whether they could use it to get the county off their backs, or how to put that money to work to benefit students.
In October, district officials staved off a county takeover by cutting $10.3 million from its budget. The school board then submitted a fiscal stabilization plan to the county showing that it could meet its fiduciary responsibility and maintain a 3 percent emergency reserve fund. But also in October, county officials told the district they could not include funds from the tax increase in budget projections because school officials do not control the money.
More than a month after the election, and more than a year after the idea was first articulated by Mayor Terry Tornek in his annual state of the city address, Pasadena Weekly Deputy Editor André Coleman learned that the two sides had no revenue-sharing agreement in place prior to the election.
Although the city won’t have access to the funds from the sales tax measure until June, district officials almost immediately requested the council approve a document promising money would be turned over to them.
That didn’t happen. Instead, the city formed an ad hoc committee consisting of Tornek, two other council members and three Board of Education members to figure out what to do next. So far, the committee has met once, but it has taken no action on the money. Tornek says the issue should be resolved in the next 60 days.
Some council members, Coleman reported, have called for accountability measures to be built into any agreement with the district.
That’s more than reasonable when one considers how many times we’ve been asked to accept the last three Ps as just another fact of life in the PUSD.