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.