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PUSD Task Force Hoping for Big Turnout at Next Altadena Meeting

A task force charged with looking at a plan for electoral sub-districts for Pasadena Unified School District is looking for public input from Altadena residents.

Altadena, like other areas in the Pasadena Unified School District, is in the midst of a districting process that could determine whether future board members are chosen in individual sub-districts or continue to be elected at-large by residents across the district.

However, interest from Altadena residents in the process may be lacking at this point: at Tuesday's Altadena Town Council meeting, Council member Tecumseh Shackleford remarked that he had attended part of an Altadena-based meeting of the task force charged with examining the districting process and noted that very few people were in attendance.

That meeting, which was at the Mountain View Cemetery, was in fact attended by very few people at all, according to Ken Chawkins, the chair of the Pasadena Unified Districting Task Force.  He said there were just a couple of meeting there, compared to 30 to 40 who showed up at a Pasadena meeting last weekend.

At the same time, Chawkins said, some of the people who showed up to last weekend's meeting and others in Pasadena have identified themselves as Altadena residents, so the task force has heard at least some input from residents.  He is hoping there will be better turnout at the next Altadena meeting on January 28 at the , so the task force can get more input from residents.

About the Task Force

The task force was created in January of 2011 to investigate the possibility of converting the Pasadena Unified board into seven sub-regional districts, each with its own elected representative.  Voters would then vote on just one board member representing their district rather than voting on all seven members of the board as they currently do.

The task force is composed of nine members with two from Altadena, appointed by Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich.  The remaining members were appointed by Sierra Madre City council (one member), Pasadena City Council (three members), and PUSD (three members). 

The plan would have to be put before PUSD voters in a special election slated for June 5, 2012,  and its passage by voters is in no way guaranteed. A similar measure seeking to establish sub-districts failed in 2000 when Measure BB was rejected by a slim margin.

Altadena's Issues

Altadena is in an interesting position as one of the two smaller cities in the district: it is too large to be contained in one district, and will wind up divided into multiple districts.

Chawkins said each district will have about 29,000 people in it - since Altadena has approximately 42,000 residents, that will mean the city could be in the position of dominating one district and being a significant player in another, he said.  It could also be divided into multiple districts and have a smaller, but still possibly significant influence across a larger number of districts, Chawkins said.

Figuring out which option would better benefit Altadena residents is an important part of the process, he added, and he is hoping to get more input from residents who want to have a say in the make-up of the new district.

Chawkins said his own view is that different parts of Altadena might have more common interests with areas of Pasadena located close by, so simply dividing districts in a north to south kind of manner might not make sense.

"The key for me is to recognize this: while city and county boundaries matter, when we are looking at communities of interest you and I both know when you are driving down the street the community does not stop at the border line," Chawkins said.

Richard Moon, the vice chair of the task force, said from what he has heard from Altadena residents, they would like to have influence in a couple of districts.

"Mostly there is sort of a general concern about Altadena being kind of shoved off into their own district and forgotten," Moon said.

The next meeting of the group is on Saturday January 28 at 1 p.m. at the

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Richard January 24, 2012 at 02:35 AM
I'm not asking for you to fight, Nadine; I'm just asking you to not discount the propensity for people *who are asking for your input* to possibly be the sort of people who will, indeed, actually listen.
navigio January 24, 2012 at 03:18 AM
Hi Richard. First off I mostly agree with you however it seems Steve's point is not so much related to the question of listening as much as it is to whether there is any power or even willingness to effect a particular outcome as a result of what is heard. On the other hand, not everyone can win every fight. And sometimes even for good reason. While I have not yet learned the true meaning of the word futility (and I hope I never do) I do appreciate hearing Steve's side of what he's lived through. I personally don't understand why the issues that are relevant can't be discussed here. I know the meeting is supposed to be the forum but giving people an idea of why they should be interested would probably go a long what toward increasing attendance. Steve spoke at a board meeting recently so it's clear he still cares. Perhaps he simply has bigger fish to fry? :-) From my perspective the disenfranchisement will come about by the simple removal of at-large elections (which is no up for debate) not how the boundaries are drawn. if there is anything the process could do that mattered it would be to require board members to treat every pusd citizen equally, regardless of whether they are a direct constituent. Not sure there would be a way to actually enforce that.
Richard January 24, 2012 at 04:31 AM
"I personally don't understand why the issues that are relevant can't be discussed here." Not suggesting that they *can't*, just suggesting that they'll get a more effective audience (such as the nine people on the taskforce, the viewers of KLRN, and anyone that eventually reads the minutes of the process to determine the boundary lines). If one forum is important enough to be a place to voice very passionate concerns, then surely the forum actually connected to the body in question would be just as legitimate, and potentially useful, a venue. Discounting the meetings as "pointless" for any Altadenan to speak at while still caring enough to talk about it here seems unprofitable. "From my perspective the disenfranchisement will come about by the simple removal of at-large elections" I'd be very interested in hearing your reasoning here, actually. Right now, every candidate for every seat is best served by campaigning most among high-voter-propensity populations in the district, and ignoring low-voter-propensity areas, and with the system being at-large, those wind up as the exact same areas for every candidate. With a sub-district system, the candidate is served best (or rather, entirely) by campaigning within their trustee area, rather than in the same high-propensity areas that every other candidate campaigns in. As for getting them to treat every citizen equally, as an Altadenan, I'd have to say that they don't really do that *now*.
navigio January 24, 2012 at 04:55 AM
Hi Richard. If they dont to it now, they'd do it even less under the new system. I think currently every board member feels at minimum a minor pang of responsibility to at least listen to every community member who is willing to express something. In the future they can simply say, 'sorry, not my district' and even feel justified in doing that. I feel the disenfranchisement will come about due to the fact that now it is possible to find a board member to align with pretty much no matter who you are or what your political views are (more or less anyway). However, under the new system you will be stuck with the board member you get for your region, whether you happen to see eye-to-eye or not (or whether you happened to campaign for or against him or her). I think that will leave a lot more people out in the cold. At least more than currently are. Note, I know that is not up for debate at this point, but it is one reason some people may find the specifics of the border-drawing less-than-crucial..?
navigio January 24, 2012 at 05:04 AM
Hey Richard, sorry, I didnt mean to imply the meeting is not an appropriate forum. In fact, I'm pretty sure it is the most effective forum. No dispute there. But that doesnt mean everyone from hither to yon will simply show up. My concern is that unless people see the critical issues that make them want to attend the meeting, they will not bother. How many people will simply show up to see whether something interesting happens? Im pretty sure Steve wont. However, if he knew you were planning on doing x and had a good reason for why x is a bad idea, he'd be more likely.. if he wasnt working on his car that is.. ;-)
navigio January 24, 2012 at 05:05 AM
tf, I hope you dont try to put your cycling shorts on the same way...
Richard January 24, 2012 at 04:16 PM
It's a fair concern, but one of the things that gets lost, quite often, in these discussions is the fact that by state law and its own internal rules, every member of the board is the board member for every school in the district. They currently "assign" each member a set of schools to focus on, and due to the distribution of the schools, it will be (and logically should be) impossible for members under a geographic election system to only focus on the schools within their district. IOW, there's going to be the board member that lives in and was elected by your district, and the board member that's specifically focused on this school or that school by your house, and whether or not those two board members are or are not the same person, technically every board member is supposed to pay attention. Similarly, no matter what the pangs of their internal guilt may or may not force them to do, the simple fact of politics is that all elected officials will tend to listen most to the people most likely to get them into or keep them in the job. Which means that areas that vote more will get listened to more. That's just the nature of the system, really, and under the current system, that "pay attention unless you want to get voted out next election" area is the same for all 7 seats. Whether or not you or I agree with any particular candidate politically, the fact remains that their best interest lies in serving the area that's going to get them elected, first, in an at-large system.
Richard January 24, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Agreed, if people don't care, they won't show up. What I'm seeing here (and in a few other places, as well) is people who care enough to express themselves in passionate, angry language, and who have convinced themselves to not show up because their voice won't be heard. And of course, if they don't show up, their voice can't be heard, so it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. The article above, and many of the other ones Dan has written about the process, lays out what's at stake, and you, yourself, have an opinion about the process that would be well-stated to the task force, and yet apparently none of that is important enough to say to the task force's faces, though it's important enough to be written about here. Like I said earlier: the easiest way to ensure that nothing will ever get fixed is to convince oneself that nothing *can* ever be fixed.
navigio January 24, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Hi Richard. Yes, Im familiar with the idea that every board member is still a district board member (in fact, this is the response I got from board members when I brought up this concern), however, allow me to not believe it in practice. :-) If what you say about them not doing this now is true, then I dont see how per-region elections will improve that. If they do do it now, per-region elections can make them less likely to, imho. In some sense, it even counters the whole point of moving away from at-large elections, which as you point out is to restrict (force) focus (representation) to regions that otherwise would be less likely to get a voice due to lower-levels of participation. And I agree with you on the basic intentions of the voting rights act. I just think its not that simple in a school district setting, and specifically one like ours (extremely diverse in a number of ways). Your point about 'assigned' schools vs region location is an important one. I would also throw OE into the mix. As it is now, regardless of where you go to school and who your school assigned board member is, you voted for or against (and will vote for or against) that person. In the future it will be quite likely that you did not. Perhaps the change in community-level interests will outweigh the change in school-level interests.. In any case, I did not intend to start a discussion about the basis for the voting rights act, I apologize for diverting the discussion.
mister altadena January 24, 2012 at 06:35 PM
*Whew* Maybe, on Saturday, someone will let us know how this will benefit the kids; it's "all for the kids", right?
navigio January 24, 2012 at 07:33 PM
hey mr.. ;-) the simple answer is that it reduces the amount of future lawer fees involved when we get sued if we dont do this. so thats the main thing. (imho the main thing because I dont think we'd be doing it otherwise). The other is that, in theory, the voting rights act will give more voice to those who have been historically disenfranchised (due to their lower rates or absolute numbers of voter turnout). If you take some of what Steve says above at face value, it should be easy to see how that could benefit our kids.
Steve Lamb January 24, 2012 at 08:14 PM
Exactly. How will district representation help the kids? Won't, or better yet, how can it when kids still get assigned or choose to go to schools outside their geographic district. For example on ALL High School issues, the person whop would geographically represent a district where the high school is could not possibly represent directly any Altadenan in any geographically constructed district that would meet the recent State of California guidelines that districts be constructed along natural geographic and historic cultural and political lines. While I note that the PUSD has been required by law to have District representation for some thirty years now, I actually have come to believe that doing so will weaken EVERY neighborhoods voice in this particular case.
Steve Lamb January 24, 2012 at 08:21 PM
Navigo- I wrote the comment above yours after you wrote the one above. I really don't believe having geographic districts in then PUSD will be an effective method to improve either community involvement or student education. ACT will control the outcome in any case, and ACT is the major problem, Since they have controlled who sat on the PUSD board the quality of the district has tanked. There are methods that will help our kids, The PUSD is NOT interested and has not been interested in them for decades. As my recent speech mentioned, Yvonne Chang is sitting in Pacoima in a school with demographics as difficult as any in Pasadena, and she made it work. The problem is nothing in her method allows for a not for profit to get paid and thats what this District is REALLY all about, the profits of the not for profits. Actions speak much more clearly than policy....
Steve Lamb January 24, 2012 at 08:31 PM
Now if we are to do this meaningless dog and pony show of geographic districts, it makes sense to place Altadena west of Lake in one district all by itself, and Altadena east of lake in a district with Sierra Madre. That would work out to roughly (Slightly more) 20,000 people per each of those districts. The west Altadena District has a long standing political,demographic,cultural and geograpic identity. The District east of lake is a foothill district that politically, socially and demographically is simular to and has most of the same concerns as Sierra Madre. Of course, Sierra Madre will refuse and this will mean that Altadena will have to be put into districts with Pasadena and dilluted to meaninglessness. This is because 10,000 caucasians in Sierra Madre outnumber the 47,000 racially diverse citizens of Altadena in PUSD political math. Of course there are more than 10,000 caucasians in Altadena, but their votes have never counted in PUSD politics and things will be arranged so they never will.
Richard January 24, 2012 at 10:27 PM
In addition to what Navigio mentions down there, it's also going to significantly reduce the cost of the elections and run-offs, both for the district (direct benefit to the students, there), but also for candidates. It would also theoretically bring board members into a position wherein areas that desire or need attention with regards to neighborhood schools (or lack thereof) will get listened to more than they are now. One thing to remember, which I said above, is that the representative of a particular geographic sub-district will *not* necessarily be the board member responsible for the actual schools within the boundaries of that geographic sub-district. These sub-districts will determine *only* the areas that elect each seat; the seats will still deal with individual schools as determined by the internal rules of the board, and the requirement that members of a school board must be attentive to every school in a district.
Richard January 24, 2012 at 10:30 PM
Steve, you should come down to a meeting, take a look at the maps, and make that suggestion there, with the caveat that the districts need to be in the realm of 28,900 people each, according to both state and federal law.
navigio January 24, 2012 at 10:34 PM
Is it possible to post the potential maps online? Apologies if it's already somewhere I didn't notice..
Steve Lamb January 24, 2012 at 10:43 PM
Richard- Uh if you want Altadenas input about how the Districts will be formed why are there already maps? Its the same old hustle- choose one of these maps we have drawn....Why not take our input BEFORE you start drawing maps? Why would I make that suggestion at the meeting in person when I know it won't be taken? And while this may make elections less expensive for the district, its not going to make it any easier for local non ACT/PEF candidates to get elected. in fact, if the elections become cheaper it will make it easier for ACT/PEF to dominate those elections., If we had massive structural campaign finance First, I may be interested, but without it this is a cruel joke and a fraud.
Richard January 25, 2012 at 12:05 AM
There are "already" maps because it was agreed that it would be more useful for everyone to have broad, general options from which to branch off from. None of the maps are in any way, form, or manner final, and the Task Force doesn't even begin to expect that any of the drafts currently up will be the "final" selection until after a lot of tweaking, adjusting, and outright changing has occurred. The task force has even asked, and continues to ask, for anyone with a substantially different idea than the ones put together so far to please, please bring it to the task force's attention. And you should make the suggestion in person precisely because it might be taken. As I've said, this task force is not the PUSD you've been dealing with for 20 years, it is not the board, it is not even *employees*, and if you listen to the discussion that happens at every meeting, it's not even dominated by Pasadena alone. It's not what you've dealt with before, and your preconceptions about how much it will or will not listen to you are the only things stopping the task force from hearing your concerns (and not even all that effectively, as I'm sure you're aware of. While you seem determined to remain convinced that voicing your concerns in person will be "useless", I have little doubt that task force members that may read this blog will bring them up. They'd carry more weight coming from you, directly, but so be it). And how would it not make it easier for non-ACT members to get elected?
Richard January 25, 2012 at 12:10 AM
http://districting-task-force.pasadenausd.org/modules/locker/files/group_files.phtml?parent=14756404&gid=2425931&sessionid=e67a093d2caa07de36b45a786eb5fb7f I stress again, however, that these are *drafts*. They are not final products, at all. There is also an online tool for tweaking these maps and building your own, but I can't find the link at the moment.
Richard January 25, 2012 at 05:57 AM
Correcting one thing mentioned: "While I note that the PUSD has been required by law to have District representation for some thirty years now," This is incorrect. Until 2003, there wasn't even a provision in state law allowing the district to switch over to geographic sub-districts, which is why the Measure BB charter amendment proposed in 2000 included a lot of language like "should the State of California enact enabling legislation allowing or authorizing..." and so on. The 2003 amendment to the California Voters' Rights Act actually did create such authorizing legislation, but did not *require* at-large districts to switch to geographic sub-districts (though it did "encourage" them to do so, largely by making lawsuits for that aim much easier and costlier). So the district wasn't even capable of switching to sub-district elections until 2003, let alone "being required by law" for 30.
Richard January 25, 2012 at 06:06 PM
And here's that online map-drawing tool I mentioned: http://www.onlineredistricting.com/pasadenaunified2/redist/ hitting "submit" on a map actually sends it to the consultants the task force is using, and they'll submit it to the task force.
navigio January 26, 2012 at 06:14 AM
Thanks Richard, thats some good stuff. The online tool is a bit tedious, but the concept is cool. The demographic profiles are the most interesting piece. They make it pretty clear how difficult it is going to be achieve what the voting rights act is trying to achieve. For example, it seems unclear that its possible to get more than one district with an ethnic majority for either of the two main ethnic minorities. This in spite of the fact those minorities make up almost 80% of the district enrollment. Obviously that doesnt mean there cant be representation of those groups anyway, but the appearance may be something different (or arguably not much change from the current situation). Anyway, good work on this stuff. Dan I think it would be helpful to include a link to the main redistricting web page in future articles. Maybe everyone who is interested in it already knows now, but you never know.. ;-)
Steve Lamb January 26, 2012 at 03:08 PM
Navigo- You point out a major problem with the PUSD. The voters who would seem to control it are a completely different group demographically than the Parents of the users of the District. Of course this is NOTHING compared to the reality that the PUSD and all Pasadena politics are controlled by a group in San Marino. Why a few years ago they even had a San Marino resident with a fake address in Pasadena on the Board. Couldn't get ANYONE to cover that story and he never faked it as well as Yvonne Burke....Changing lines on a map here is not going to make a difference. This is all smoke, mirrors, dogs and ponies.
Richard January 26, 2012 at 07:47 PM
Like I said, Steve, the best way to ensure that absolutely nothing will ever change is to convince yourself that absolutely nothing will ever change.
navigio January 27, 2012 at 09:20 PM
Hi Steve. As long as there are variations in voting behavior and resource usage, there will always be a disconnect between policy-makers and users. In California this is exacerbated by the fact that non-citizens currently cant vote (legal or not). There is a valid question as to the intent and meaning of 'representation' when such a disconnect exists. At minimum, I believe it highlights a hypocrisy that exists in our society (not limited to representation within the school environment). Obviously a redistricting task force is limited by current law in what it can do to 'rectify' that. Even so, I think it would be potentially dangerous to exclude non-users from representation. Not only morally, but it could even introduce a taxation without representation issue (which would likely be rectified not by increasing representation, but decreasing taxation, ie funding.. :-P ). Our area is an outlier in this regard, due to our funky demographic and usage patterns, and as a result the disparity probably seems even more extreme here. The other issues I cannot comment on because I have no insight and limited history. However, I will say that there is a responsibility for the community to remain on the ball. Its only half the sinners fault when apathy provokes the sin. imho anyway. You need to write a book about the history of pusd... I promise i'd buy at least one copy... in fact, I've thought about writing such a book myself... time, time...
Richard January 27, 2012 at 10:23 PM
I'd buy that book, too.
Nadine Isenberg January 27, 2012 at 11:02 PM
Richard, we always have to fight for what we need/want/have. It's a figure of speach and as far as wanting my imput, in alot of cases when some group wants your "imput" that group is just trying to keep everyone off their backs by saying "we will listen to you and take your comments into consideration". Isn't that the best line of BS in the world? Like I said before, if I wasn't already learning how to help others during an emergency then I would attend this meeting. But since Firemen are giving up their free time to teach me something that could help people in my area, it's a no brainers. My education and family safety first.
Richard January 28, 2012 at 01:37 AM
Completely understand that choice, Nadine, don't get me wrong. There are other meetings, hopefully one might not conflict with an important previous engagement. And yes, a lot of the time people say they want input, they're covering their butts. But, by the exact same token, a lot of the time people say they want your input, it's because they *want your input*. All I ask is that the worst is not the automatic assumption made about a group of people that volunteered their time for this.
Richard January 28, 2012 at 02:00 AM
Oh, and now ironies of ironies, I just found out that I can't make it to this meeting, either. D'oh!

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