AUSD: It’s on!

by Andre Coleman, Pasadena Weekly, Jan 19, 2006

Los Angeles County Office of Education officials confirmed being in receipt of a letter from three prominent Altadenans requesting that LACOE draft a petition for the formation of an Altadena Unified School District.

In the letter, community members Maurice Morse, Shirlee Smith and Bruce Wasson asked county education officials to prepare a petition in order to hold public hearings on the issue. If petitioners can collect signatures from 25 percent of the town’s registered voters, the office would hold public hearings on the matter and complete a feasibility study before the state Board of Education made a final decision.

The feasibility study would not be a management audit, as suggested in another published report. Rather, it would focus on the fiscal condition of the school district as it relates to the unification of a new district.

"We the undersigned, each a property owner, taxpayer, registered voter, and resident of Altadena, an unincorporated community in Los Angeles County, hereby request your assistance in drafting a petition for the unification of the Altadena Unified School District from the Pasadena Unified School District," the letter states.

"We believe that the unification of the Altadena Unified School District, which would create a district with more than 4,000 students, will provide Altadena students with the highest quality public school education in safe and secure facilities; reduce the distance Altadena students must travel in order to attend a public school; increase the sense of community identity within Altadena; improve the efficiency and fiscal responsibility of school district management; and increase the voice of Altadenans in the governance of their public schools."

The letter, which was received by county officials Friday, also calls for an equitable distribution of property and facilities.

Although the Altadena Town Council has explored the idea of forming a separate school district before, this is the first time a resident there has petitioned the LACOE to draft such a petition.

"I would think that it would benefit our children," said Morse, one of the three citizens who signed the letter. Over the past few years, Morse had been supportive of the PUSD and Superintendent Percy Clark, whose hiring in 2001 Morse supported.

However, she said, "In the last five years we have had leadership that does not seem to care about Altadena. Percy Clark is not a match for our complicated district. We just have the wrong leader."

Schools are one of the few remaining institutions shared by the two communities. Altadena has its own post office, fire department and is patrolled by the Altadena bureau of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Of course, many of the agencies do work together.

Sheriff’s deputies will be more involved with the schools since the PUSD disbanded its school police due to a continuing financial crisis, largely attributed to declining enrollment.

On Dec. 20, Pasadena school board members decided to close Noyes, Edison, Allendale and Linda Vista elementary schools after losing more than 1,000 students this year. That enrollment decline cost the district $4 million in state funds.

But school closures probably will not stop there. PUSD spokeswoman Janet Pope-Givens told the Weekly in December that there was a greater than 50 percent chance that next year the district would be forced to close even more schools.

The Altadena Town Council voted on Dec. 20 to look into the possibility of removing its seven schools from the PUSD.

Students of Linda Vista, which is located in West Pasadena, currently attend classes in Altadena because repairs to that campus were stopped due to budget constraints.

While governed by the LA County Board of Supervisors, Altadena has an elected, 16-member Town Council that acts as an advisory body on issues such as education.

On Saturday, about 200 people met with Antonovich and members of the PUSD Executive Leadership Team, which included Assistant Superintendents George McKenna and Kathy Duba and Board of Education President Ed Honowitz. Clark did not attend, claiming a prior scheduling commitment.

That was probably just as well because Clark’s team did not receive a warm welcome, Morse recalled.

"It was horrible," said Morse. "People were standing everywhere; they couldn’t get a seat. They were booing Kathy Duba, telling her to sit down. They are angry and I don’t blame them. This district has gotten horrible."

Others complained of Brown Act violations and at one point yelled: "Stop this man; he’s pillaging and plundering our district," pointing to Honowitz.

Supporters of plans to form a new school district have also started their own Web site,

Antonovich called for respect from participants, but later called the Altadena Unified School District an achievable goal and said he would support a school district in Altadena if it is what the community wants.

"We saw interest from the public in separating from PUSD beyond what we expected," said Justin Chapman, the Town Council member who initiated proposals to secede from the PUSD. "It was quite possibly the highest attended Altadena community meeting ever."