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.

Tony Brandenburg May 24, 2012 at 03:23 AM
well. let's see. are you ready cassandra? beginning in April, 2010 two people in sierra madre saw the writing on the wall. they started with gayle bluemel. then they went to garret newsom. then they went to zen phone master edwin diaz. then they went to facilities. they were run all over town. dummies those two parents then took pictures as the school was being torn down, took pictures in the two weeks prior to school beginning, called to find out why their were caustic chemicals laying around, and question the safety of portables which are known to have asbestos, poor ventilation, a single exit, and are generally unsafe for long term use- especially for children- who was calling state and county agencies and trying to make sure that not a single child entered that school- but were instead housed at lower campus until the construction was complete....? who do you think it was? well, it wasn't the 'i found ten million dollars' vegan zen mama. it was the scourge of sierra madre, the brandenburgs.
Tony Brandenburg May 24, 2012 at 03:36 AM
anyone with the backbone to ask the people i've named, certainly can. ask them if we went to them from April 2010 until October, 2010 with these questions. remind the folks that we keep email records, and know how to request public docs like no one's business. we don't talk out of our necks. in october 2010 i was talking to a big mama, rhymes with hal, and she asked how i moved my middle child out of SMU. when a barbie monm walked over, rhymes with hal stopped talking to me. see, that was when something else was going on. you will recall that ladouche edugreat said that we were SURELY in the know about the situation with our youngest child. well, as i have said, no. we didn't. here is why: the brandenburgs were engaged from April 2010 through October, 2010 contacting newspaers (who do you think set up those "parent interviews" in September 2010)- the first big article that raised parent concerns? THE BRANDENBURGS SET IT UP. We worked it from a Williams Compliance angle, we worked it through proper channels, the press, the state, and we made the administrators uncomfortable. then guess what happened?
Tony Brandenburg May 24, 2012 at 03:41 AM
well, at this time the tension and vibing started. we weren't ALLOWED to stay with our youngest child, and things quickly spun out of control. here's the kicker. administration was grateful that the parent vigilantes turned on us and started the process of destroying our family. they had been looking for a way to get us out of sierra madre for a while. so our focus went away from sierra madre upper, and turned toward defending ourselves from HORRIBLE ALLEGATIONS made by the same families WE WERE TRYING TO HELP.
Tony Brandenburg May 24, 2012 at 03:50 AM
so straight up, in your face sierra madre school. we TRIED to help you. we TRIED to tell you. we even documented the INSANITY of this BROKEN SYSTEM. you were to busy singing praise to bluemel to even notice, you fools. instead you criminalized my baby, made my wife and i up to be a couple of self-centered snobs, and waltzed right into the viper's nest with your BS petitions and lies. you gave those people EXACTLY what they needed. ask them. go on. and ask those SSC people, and PTA mamas, ask them, too. didn't any of them notice how WILLING the district was to assist them? they wanted the brandenburgs to shut up, and these sme fools played right into it. nice job. and for the record- for the last two years we have constantly and consistently brought up the SMU issues, even though NONE of our children will be there. SME/SMU. keep treating us like we are the pariahs. it only makes the betrayal that much more pathetic.
Tony Brandenburg May 24, 2012 at 04:48 AM
we were documenting EVERYTHING. calls, people, dates. city, state, CDE, aqmd. yes, even aqmd. anyone wonder who called amqd and why they showed up? GUESS WHO CALLED?!!! it sure as hell wasn't your dear administration, nor your PTA, SSC, nor the parent vigilantes. it was the brandenburgs- radon levels, cancer risks, noise levels (hello? ever wonder why those cats using JACKHAMMERS protect their ears? children's hearing is easily damaged- they have smaller ear canals), lead levels. all of it. this is how they fixed it- the builders watered down the dust. it's so sick. we were focused, and we were getting rad. FOR YOUR KIDS. we were the ones asking why children were WALKING THROUGH A DEMO AREA...... we were getting stuff in writing when we could- i mean, some of them...... they were calling the school a DEMOLITION SITE up through the first MONTH of school- and we were conversing with some guy..... um.... some facilities guy from Gilroy..... where phone zen master diaz was from..... the facilities guy..... (he didn't like to do email tho; we were hammering him in July of 2010 until he bailed around, um, October 2010 ........ so we had to transcribe those conversations....., and then he left suddenly..... you have NO IDEA how much progress we had made before the bullies derailed us. Had they let us finish what we'd started, the kids would have been at SME- safe from environmental health and safety hazards, the district would have been forced to do SOMETHING.
Tony Brandenburg May 24, 2012 at 04:58 AM
Sierra Madre Elementary and Upper School- you betrayed the best friends your schools ever had. Hope you are satisfied. I am too busy to tell you where to go to get help, but for your children's sake, you better do something. a toilet in the middle of the field is the least of your concerns. BRAVO.
Mary Brandenburg May 24, 2012 at 05:05 AM
Mary Brandenburg May 24, 2012 at 05:14 AM
Mitigated negative declaration report http://measurett.org/37370001_Sierra%20Madre%20School_IS%20MNDrevi.pdf
Tony Brandenburg May 24, 2012 at 05:50 AM
don't help them mamjo. they don't want your help, even though these deflated eco-numbers are obviously a lie. they are smarter than you and i. they'll figure out what to do. they don't want us for anything but to whisper about. let them show their stuff. let them go to every board meeting. research around the clock. make phone calls on their breaks. it's not our problem now. put it in drive.
Tony Brandenburg May 24, 2012 at 07:00 AM
watch the board meeting. read the sierra madre activist parent sites. take a look at the tattler. take a look at how you've treated us for two years +. dig it, YUPPIES. you feed your kids tofurky, swear off sodapop and red dye #5, fling arrows at autistic kids that interfere with your precious cst test- and then you whine about the facade of the school, about how you were cheated out of your precioussssss TT money, how the weeds put a blemish on your pretty little town, how unfair it is that you don't have light fixtures in your auditorium. NOT ONE family, NOT ONE PRESENTER, NOT ONE MENTION of the pollutants that have been pumped into your kids' systems for two years. WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?
VFD May 24, 2012 at 02:25 PM
I applaud Melissa Castillo for lambasting those sloths on the PUSD school board. That mid century middle School could have been updated and painted for a lot less that their posted inflated figures. The PUSD lied to the community claiming the new school was less costly. How many of you live in mid century or older homes? Its creative to restore the old sound structure than tearing it all down. The school was a single level facility that could have been updated for better seismic performance, HVAC and updated communications. The PUSD Board sloths had to tear it all down at the same time the Board was claiming a budget shortfall.
VFD May 24, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Tony, whatever you are smoking, where can I get some?
Mary Brandenburg May 24, 2012 at 02:34 PM
@ VFD- perhaps Tony inhaled some unicorn tears?
Mary Brandenburg May 24, 2012 at 03:21 PM
We opted for diversity and went over to Marshall. There's a board of ed rep there that pushes for transparency. Transparency seems to matter in Sierra Madre when it's the mass opinion, otherwise Sierra Madre likes to keep their "dirty little secrets" well hidden. Perhaps those school board members that Castillo lambasted should have listened more closely when I told them how important children really are at Sierra Madre. This Treasurer was very concerned about potential damage to grass rather than the dignity of the child she was ridiculing.
Tony Brandenburg May 24, 2012 at 11:28 PM
@vfd. it pleases me to no end that you applaud ms. abbott castillo. in fact, i wonder if she appreciates you as much as you appreciate her.
Tony Brandenburg May 24, 2012 at 11:30 PM
these people are warts, maryjo. they just keep growing back. don't waste your time.
Tony Brandenburg May 24, 2012 at 11:48 PM
waaaa. our school doesn't have an air conditioner in the teacher lounge. waaaaa. the pinnochio auditorium doesn't have stage lights. waaaaa. we want a bathroom on the field so parents can have slugfests on our fields, too. waaaaaaa.
Louis Educe May 24, 2012 at 11:57 PM
Tony, Mary and all the others (both recognized and unrecognized) who have worked so hard to raise the Board's awareness of the needs of our kids ALL deserve a big Thank-you. Too bad the board and those in charge of construction matters at the district failed to hear, understand, or act on the information given by the parents and community. To VFD I would say that your statement "Its creative to restore the old sound structure than tearing it all down" shows that you must not have visited the middle school when it was standing... to call the termite and water damaged beams "sound" or the falling asbestos tiles in the cafe, or the crumbling music room, or..or... a simple or "creative remodel" project is farfetched. The correct thing to do was to tear it down and build it right from the ground up for our kids. The delays causing the district to miss out on the state matching funds were inexcusable.
Tony Brandenburg May 25, 2012 at 12:13 AM
i agree lou. gasp. there is a common denominator here. there is no excuse for the middle school situation. i don't have to like anyone, and they don't have to like me- but i'll tell you this- asbestos tiles were falling on the kids. we told you guys. windows breaking- they weren't shatter proof. a child fell through the floor. unusable bathrooms. it was not safe. and we told the pta mums. and we told admin. bluemel. diaz. personally i think ms. abbott y castillo should have offered a resolution to name the ladies room after bluemel.
Louis Educe May 25, 2012 at 12:37 AM
Tony, Please do not include me with your "you guys." They are not me! But,I also know for a fact that the school was in terrible shape when Maranatha was there and when they left the district at that time should have made major fixes but only patched things up to make it look presentable. One of my kids was in the cafe when at least one of the tiles fell, and refused to use the restroom at school because of the horrible conditions, (I filed a Williams act on that) they "cleaned it" for a while but never really repaired the stall doors.
Tony Brandenburg May 25, 2012 at 01:30 PM
well then, we'd best place me in a bag, light it on fire, put it on your porch, knock on the door, and then run away.
Mary Brandenburg May 25, 2012 at 01:52 PM
@VFD- at least this time you, ah....., communicated in Italian. I've had the pleasure of reading your posts on the Patch over the past few months. Maybe they'd all go over better in Italian.
Politically Incorrect May 25, 2012 at 08:22 PM
Brandenburgs - Why must you pathetically try to make everything about you and your campaign of lies and distortions? You are starved for attention so you lash out at every opportunity. It is very tiresome. Please, get a hobby.
Tony Brandenburg May 25, 2012 at 09:56 PM
dear politically impotent, you can take a pill for that.
Cassandra Morris May 26, 2012 at 03:48 AM
All: Please post in English so everyone will be able to read your comments. Thank you!
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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