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Group Blasts Pasadena Schools’ Catering Bills

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A parents group released a report Thursday showing that the Pasadena school district spent more than $66,000 last year on catering for retreats and events, including nearly $10,000 at an exclusive country club.

Standing outside the Altadena Town & Country Club where Pasadena Unified held catered retreats for employees, the parents criticized the district’s use of education dollars and said they would ask the attorney general’s office to review the practice.

“In a district where 77% of the kids get some form of government food assistance, it’s outrageous that the school bureaucrats spend so much eating at the finest places in town,” said parent Rene Amy.

In five years, the district spent at least $153,000 on catering for its meetings, the group said.

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School board President Lisa Fowler responded by saying the meetings are invaluable and a reasonable expense when considered in the context of the district $120-million budget. She added that other agencies spend much more.

“These meetings are for staff development, not entertainment . . . lunches are bought for parents and teachers, not just administrators,” she said. “The board never gets dinner.”

Fowler said teachers, like employees in the private sector, have a right to some amenities while working long hours.

The dozen parents gathered Thursday said the school board was out of touch with their community.

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“When children come to school hungry--when they bring a bag to get extra food, it’s unconscionable the money is wasted in this manner,” said Joyce Gomez, a retired educator. “This could have purchased thousands of textbooks.”

In their report, titled “Let Them Eat Cake,” the parents documented:

* The district spent $9,899.57 last year at the Altadena Country Club. Among the club bills was one for $3,267.63 for a September staff development retreat. A dinner in May for 50 employees of Henry W. Longfellow Elementary School cost $22.50 per person plus $75 for security.

At an event at the club in 1996, the district paid a bartender charge and cocktail service fee as part of two-day function that cost $4,400.

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* The district spent $13,000 on food in August at a two-day retreat for 97 administrators and top personnel at a Newport Beach hotel.

Parents said they are aware that such spending on catering may be commonplace, but that made the issue a statewide problem, they said. An attorney for a legal foundation agreed Thursday to help obtain an opinion from the attorney general on whether the district can justify such spending.

But school district officials said that most businesses cater meetings and that the district usually uses its own food service or local establishments.

Much of the spending is for events related to a program that requires meetings with parents and community outreach, spokeswoman Betsy Richman said.

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“What is wrong with using a private country club? How is that different from going to a restaurant?” she asked.

Richman said the meetings make the district better. Today an all-day event for parents on an innovative new program promoted by Rene Amy will be catered by the Green Street restaurant at the suggestion of parent organizers, she said.

Amy said he was never consulted. “I will be bringing my own lunch from Trader Joe’s,” he said.


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