YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

4 Pasadena Schools to Be Closed

As enrollment falls, the district will shutter elementary campuses -- it hasn't decided which ones yet. Panel will trim budget by $6.5 million.

November 24, 2005|Jean Merl and Tanya Caldwell | Times Staff Writers

Struggling with declining enrollment and a looming budget deficit, the Pasadena Unified School District board decided this week to close four of its 24 elementary schools.

The board, voting late Tuesday on several steps to cut nearly $6.5 million from a total operating budget of about $190 million, did not decide which schools to shutter. Eva Lueck, assistant superintendent for business services, said Wednesday that the board hopes to make that decision by mid-January, before the deadline for the district's annual open enrollment period.

The 21,000-student district, like many others in California, has seen declining enrollments -- and lower budgets -- in the last few years, because of such factors as escalating housing prices, shifting job markets and a declining birthrate.

San Francisco Unified has closed five schools for this year and is considering eliminating as many as 20 more for 2006-07. Other districts around the state, including San Jose Unified, have also closed schools, and still others are making plans to shutter at least one campus in the coming year.

Pasadena began this academic year with 850 fewer students than it had last year, said district spokeswoman Janet Pope.

The district had expected to lose 300 and had budgeted for a 500-student decline, she said. Because California funds public schools based largely on attendance, unexpected enrollment drops can trigger budget crises. This week's cuts come on top of about $20 million that Pasadena Unified, whose schools also serve Altadena and Sierra Madre, has had to pare over the last four years, Pope said.

Closing four schools at the end of this academic year would save about $1 million in 2006-07, district officials said. Among the other cuts approved Tuesday were $900,000 from district and school site administration, more than $1.3 million in police and security services, $1.3 million in transportation, $700,000 in special education and $520,000 in elementary library staffing.

Nonetheless, officials tried to put the best face on their situation, viewing it as an "opportunity to reshape ... the district so that it better meets the needs of the children it is serving," Pope said.

The closure of the four elementary campuses will complicate the popular open enrollment policy, in which parents are allowed to make several choices of schools for their children. Supt. Percy Clark launched the program about five years ago to appeal to parents, including those considering private schools.

Christopher Brandow, co-leader of the Pasadena Education Network, which encourages parents to enroll their children in the district's schools, said Wednesday that the cuts, especially the school closings, would make his organization's job a little harder.

"But what we are emphasizing is that, once the decision is made, parents still will have some great choices," he said. "We're encouraging parents to focus on the individual schools" and not dwell too much on the district cuts.

Brandow said the board faced "some very difficult choices" in making the cuts, but he praised district officials for holding a series of "public engagement" meetings earlier this fall that helped inform parents about Pasadena Unified's financial straits.

Those meetings helped prompt hundreds of Blair International Baccalaureate School supporters to pack the district's boardroom Tuesday. Although the high school did not end up on the chopping block after all, its supporters had feared that it would.

Cheerleaders sat on the floor, parents relegated to the hallways peeped in the doorway, and the rest of the crowd clogged the hallways and slipped into a nearby room to watch the school's fate unfold on television.

"I know the school district has to cut, and I feel for the kids" whose schools will be closed, said Blair parent Gina Frierman-Hunt. But, she said, "I'm really happy they didn't cut my school."

Los Angeles Times Articles