Parents to PUSD: Where is Our Middle School?

Sick of children attending middle school in trailers surrounded by mud, weeds and dirt, a group of Sierra Madre School parents took their grievances before school officials Tuesday.

Patience is wearing thin with a group of parents over construction of a new building on campus.

Over 25 enraged parents gathered at the Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education meeting and the Facilities Committee meeting Tuesday demanding an explanation: Why, after two years, hasn’t construction begun on a new middle school? Why don’t the latest budget numbers for its construction make sense?

The middle school that technically doesn't exist

Two years ago, instead of renovating the existing middle school, PUSD officials tore it down with the intention of constructing a new building. Today, children in sixth through eighth grade are still learning in bungalows and have no permanent structure.

Parent Jeffery Plaut described the middle school situation as heartbreaking, and said poor handling by the district is to blame. Karen Walker-Chamberlin said that she’s ashamed of the state of the middle school, which has been reduced to trailers on vacant lots surrounded by mud and weeds. She lamented that her child desperately wants to attend Sierra Madre Middle School next year, even though it technically does not exist.

Parent after parent lambasted the Board of Ed. Discussion of public comment items by board members is limited, but President Renatta Cooper had this to say: “I’m frustrated, too.”

“Somebody lost $11 million dollars.”

Furthering frustrations are the latest numbers and line items for construction, which appear to be a combination of irrelevant renovations and new construction costs.

“Clearly, no one looked at what this proposal said. This is not a new construction,” said Melissa Castillo, parent and School Site Council Co-Chair.

View the architect's proposal in the attachments above.

Castillo pointed out that several line items are not necessary for a new construction, such as replacing air conditioning units for about $2.4 million.

“Somebody lost $11 million dollars,” said Castillo.

According to the latest architect’s worksheet, the middle school’s original budget of $27.5 million has been inflated to a familiar-sounding $38 million.

Castillo said that two years ago, PUSD’s proposed budget for renovating the middle school was around $38 million. But, to compromise and save the district money, parents agreed to a tear down of the structure in favor of a reconstruction for $27.5 million.

Parents argue that since the budget for the middle school is now on the books as $38 million, they are saving the district a hefty sum of money by going forward with the original construction budget of $27.5 million.

Parents say that even after the proposed district-wide 20 percent budget cuts due to a reduction of Measure TT bond funding, there would still be enough money to build the middle school.

Lack of transparency by the district

The PTA, School Site Council and involved parents say that district officials haven't been transparent about construction updates and that information hasn't passed seamlessly to them from the district.

Parent Paul Beach said that it is difficult to express just how frustrating and slow-going it has been trying to get information from the district. Beach, along with other parents, asked for a formal explanation and architectural plans.

Sandra Saraganian, whose two children are Sierra Madre School alumni, says the thing that bothers her most is the lack of transparency. "Measure TT was made to keep the public informed... The district is not adhering to these requirements."

Facilities Committee and PUSD Board of Ed member Tom Selinske said that part of the confusion is because the district is in the process of updating its Facilities Master Plan and there are budget woes. Measure TT funding has been reduced and the state is no longer providing funding the district thought it would have, and that has caused things to be in flux, he said.

Selinske directed Facilities Committee members David Azcárraga and Robin Brown to provide an evolutionary timeline of the middle school construction budget and an explanation of how the current numbers came to be.

Selinske also said that the PTA and School Site Council could expect more timeliness in scheduling meetings with district officials going forward.


How has your child's experience at Sierra Madre Middle School been? How should the district respond to these parents? Tell us in the comments.

An earlier version of this story stated that Paul Beach's first name was Lawrence. Patch regrets the error.

Mary Brandenburg May 26, 2012 at 04:09 AM
Would that even include posts referencing other languages? :P
Mary Brandenburg May 26, 2012 at 04:22 AM
@Politically incompetant- how funny. Lies? Distortions? Yeah, right. We push for transparency through public records requests- which we do eventually get ahold of. Others are seeing how impossible it can be to get a straight answer from PUSD. Even with the public records requests, information is redacted.......things "disappear". Good luck. The money probably went to the crew of attorneys they retain to get them out of all the messes they find themselves in. And we are definitely not starved for attention. We get way more than we need, you know, nasty looks, glares, whispers- because we have the guts to say who we are, and not go by aliases- like you. Tony is heading right now on a plane to Vegas to get some of that attention he craves so badly.
S. Garcia May 27, 2012 at 11:28 PM
Over a year ago I contacted the State of Ca for an explanation for the supposed permit delays. I was told by the State that they were not sitting on any plans to be approved. In fact, the official stated that the architectural firm from Pasadena was very reliable and dependable. The official told me that the explanation provided by PUSD was not correct. I knew then something was amiss. I shared this information with individuals from The Quality of Life Committee. They were concerned I might antagonize PUSD with accusations. The parents of Sierra Madre have been too credulous and passive. My son has attended Sierra Madre for four years in a bungalow. We love the community, diversity, and more importantly the teachers.
Maria M D May 29, 2012 at 06:22 PM
To get involved and stay informed along with other concerned residents and Sierra Madre School families, please like https://www.facebook.com/OrganizeSierraMadreSchools on Facebook or email organizesierramadreschools@gmail.com. Thanks!
Tom Brady January 25, 2013 at 05:37 PM
The SME school project is finally going out to bid. I am a school parent and as Sierra Madre Rotary members we have catered lunch for the dedicated SME teachers on the North Canon campus in trailers for the past two years. We have endured enough nonsense and our kids and parents deserve much better. Gayle Bluemel and Esther Y. Salinas did not give PUSD a blank check to be irresponsible with tax payer funds. One great thing about America is competition. All we needed was a fair and open BID Process posted online. We can learn much with transparency. When the new bid solitications go out this April, PUSD will check references, & make a wise fiscal decision based on what they can afford. We may be surprised what this school really will actually cost. The Pasadena Star News reported escalating and irresponsible cost overruns. Will PUSD leadership can expose this abusive cost plus charade and give the SME students and parents what they deserve - Quality construction schools on time and on budget? My company www.DGRP.com can offer a project mgt web service to post plans, fees, timelines, vendors paid, service rendered, & milestones met for under $12,000 PUSD can contact me if interested. Sincerely, Tom Brady tbrady@dgrp.com President, The Destination Group - Award winning web developers since 1995 www.dgrp.com 626-355-3471 Sierra Madre Middle School Supporter Sierra Madre Rotary Club President 2011-2012 Tournament of Roses volunteer member 24 yrs.


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