Q. What does Measure J do?
A. Measure J is a companion advisory measure which only applies if Measure I passes. It does NOT raise taxes. Instead, it advises the Pasadena City Council to use one-third of all revenues from Measure I to protect and strengthen our public schools.
Q. How much money would go to the schools?
A. Approximately $7-million a year – roughly equal to 3% of the annual budget of the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD).
Q. Why should the City be helping pay for the schools?
A. Good schools benefit everyone in our community. They help protect property values. They are essential for a strong economy and a vibrant democracy. Because of those benefits, Pasadena’s General Plan makes support for the public schools one of its guiding principles.
Q. What about the other communities in the PUSD, shouldn’t they pay the tax, too?
A. They will! Areas like Altadena and Sierra Madre have very few retail outlets compared to Pasadena. Their residents do so much shopping here that the extra sales tax receipts will easily cover the 1/3 allocation for schools in those cities. Remember, too, that Pasadena students attend every PUSD school regardless of location. As a bonus, the district will get support from 100,000+ people who commute into Pasadena every day to work, study and shop.
Q. Does this mean a city takeover of the schools?
A. No. The City would simply transfer the Measure J money to the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) each year. The elected School Board would continue to make all decisions on spending and policy.
Q. How would this money be used?
A. Most would be used to prevent cuts in core academic programs. The rest would be used to strengthen classroom instruction.
Pasadena’s public schools are facing a financial crisis.
Q. Why do the schools need this money?
A. Because PUSD is facing its own financial crisis. Ever since the Great Recession, PUSD has struggled to balance the budget in the face of two big trends that are beyond local control: shrinking support from the State, and rapidly rising costs driven by State and Federal mandates.
For years the District managed to cut costs while protecting core academic programs. But we’ve now reached a point where further cuts will jeopardize academic progress. Last year the County Office of Education even warned that County intervention might be required, threatening local control. That didn’t happen, as the School Board managed to balance the budget for the next two years with another round of deep cuts. But the situation remains dire.
Q. What is the issue with State funding?
A. First, there’s a long-term problem: Since the passage of Proposition 13 forty years ago, schools have become ever more reliant on State funding. Yet the State depends mainly on sales and income taxes, which are more volatile than local property taxes. They swing wildly up and down with the economy -- a roller-coaster that is very hard for school districts to ride.
This long-term trend toward financial instability really hit home in the Great Recession. California was forced to make unprecedented cuts in State education funding – over 15%! -- and our schools have never fully recovered.
Q. The recession ended almost ten years ago. Hasn’t State funding gone back up?
A. Yes it has, slowly. Last year, per-pupil funding for districts like PUSD finally got back to where it was in 2008 (adjusted for inflation). That’s good, but it doesn’t make up for ten years of budget cuts. And, in the meantime, costly State and Federal mandates have grown even faster than State funding!
Q. What are these unfunded State and Federal mandates?
A. Two are especially expensive: Starting in 2013, the State began requiring local school districts to pay a much higher share of pension costs for teachers and other employees. At the same time, the cost of special-education has simply exploded, and Federal funding hasn’t kept pace – not even close. The result? Almost a quarter of PUSD’s budget is now devoted to support services for students with mental and physical disabilities!
Q. If things are so bad, why doesn’t PUSD just cut back on highly-paid administrators?
A. PUSD has been cutting administrative costs for years. We are now BELOW the state average for districts of our size in administrative costs per-pupil – and dropping every year.
Pasadena has fewer children than it used to.
Q. Don’t all school districts face these same issues? Why is Pasadena in such distress?
A. Yes, these issues have hurt all districts. But there’s another problem which makes it worse for older, urban districts like Pasadena: a long-term decline in enrollment. Because State funding is tied to Average Daily Attendance (ADA), declining enrollment means big losses in revenue for PUSD.
Q. Why is enrollment falling?
A. The ongoing decline is due almost entirely to the shrinking local pool of school-aged children. Birthrates have fallen, so families are smaller, but the biggest single problem is the high and rising cost of housing. Families with school-aged children are simply finding it harder and harder to live in Pasadena.
Not all the news is bad. Studies show that fewer students than in the past are leaving PUSD after 6th-grade (a traditional exit point for private schools). And specialized PUSD programs have begun to attract students from outside the district. Last year, for example, 365 students petitioned to enter PUSD, while only 169 petitioned to leave.
Nevertheless, shrinking enrollment has had a serious negative impact on PUSD’s budget.
Q. Why can’t the School District save money by downsizing as enrollment falls?
A. That is exactly what PUSD has been doing. The District has closed six schools and cut administrators, teachers and support staff accordingly. PUSD is still considering closing three more schools and is re-evaluating current usage of all its facilities. The District already brings in $5-million a year by renting out property it owns – with plans to raise millions more through a property-exchange for the District Headquarters.
One thing to remember: selling property does not help pay for daily operation of our schools. Under state law, proceeds from property sales must be used for capital costs – building new schools, repairing old ones, etc. It can’t be used for ongoing costs like teachers’ salaries.
Q. Would Measure J provide enough money to make a real difference in the schools?
A. Absolutely! The immediate result of Measure J will be to prevent some deep cuts that would otherwise have to be made next year. Longer term, Measure J funds will be especially valuable because they will not be tied to State or Federal regulations. That means PUSD can use the money flexibly to achieve the best academic results for students and parents – and the biggest-return-on-investment for local taxpayers.
Unlike neighboring districts, PUSD gets no extra local funding.
Q. All the districts around us also have high housing costs. Why is Pasadena struggling?
A. Yes, the districts around us also face falling enrollments driven by high housing costs. Not all have lost as many kids as Pasadena, but it is a problem for everyone. The difference is that most nearby districts have responded by providing extra local funding. Pasadena has not. That is precisely why we need Measures I and J.
Q. What have neighboring districts done to protect their schools?
A. Most (including Arcadia, San Marino, South Pasadena and La Canada-Flintridge) have passed parcel taxes – in effect, raising property taxes. A majority of PUSD voters approved a similar measure in 2011, but the measure fell short of the 2/3 vote required. Now Measure J offers another opportunity to provide the stable local funding that most neighboring districts already have, and that our schools desperately need – funds that can’t be touched by the State.
Q. Those other school districts are more highly rated than PUSD. Why should we invest in schools that are not performing as well?
A. First, Pasadena schools face challenges that nearby districts do not. As an urban center Pasadena has always had a much wider range of housing options than the districts around us – and it has always had a lot of private schools that attract many students from upper-and-middle-income families. As a result, the School District has a high concentration of low-income students, and students for whom English is a second language. Helping these children catch up and succeed is harder and costs more, not less. So comparing PUSD to wealthy suburban districts with very few disadvantaged students is apples-to-oranges.
Second, despite the challenges, Pasadena schools perform quite well. The District has made real progress in recent years. But those hard-won gains are threatened by the financial crisis.
Q. What evidence is there that Pasadena’s schools are performing better?
A. The evidence is everywhere you look:
· Test scores are up: in just the last three years Math scores have risen 6% and English scores have risen 9%.
· Drop-out rates are falling, and graduation rates are at a record high – almost 87%.
· Career Academies and specialized academic programs that focus on science, technology, art and international languages are flourishing. Some of these magnet schools are so successful they are attracting hundreds of new students from outside our district.
· Students graduating from PUSD this year have been accepted by the nation’s most prestigious colleges and universities: Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Brown, Penn, Duke, Georgetown, Chicago, Northwestern, Caltech, Julliard, MIT, Pomona, Occidental, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, USC and many more.
Q. What’s the bottom line on Measure J?
A. Our School Board has acted responsibly by making difficult decisions to balance the budget without jeopardizing academic progress. But now, after cutting administrators, closing schools, laying off teachers and staff, and maximizing income from district properties, the financial situation remains dire. Measure J will provide the stable local funding we need to protect and strengthen our public schools. Please vote YES on BOTH Measure I and Measure J.