The Pasadena City Council approved a modified funding agreement with the Pasadena Unified School District which allows district officials much broader use of money generated by a voter-approved sales tax increase.

The City Council agreed to remove the word “district” from the sentence “other District projects and programs that benefit public school students,” from the city’s Memorandum of Understanding with the Pasadena Unified School District regarding Measure I and Measure J.

The change gives district officials more discretion to make decisions with the money, and could open the way to give some of the money to local charter schools.

Mayor Terry Tornek said he never intended to include charter schools when he wrote the ballot measures. As a matter of fact, Tornek considered charter schools as one of the problems contributing to declining enrollment, the main drain on PUSD resources. State funding of schools is based on average daily attendance, or ADA, of students.

“We don’t want to tell PUSD what to do with their funding. They are the experts,” said Council member Margaret McAustin. “Voters don’t want us to tell PUSD what to do.”

Measure I passed overwhelmingly in November and increased local sales tax by three-quarters of a cent. The sales tax hike is expected to generate $21 million annually. Measure J would allow the PUSD to have up to a third of that amount to improve public schools.

Last year, the district came close to being taken over by the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) after LACOE officials began questioning whether the district could meet its fiduciary responsibilities.

Charter school advocates have lobbied for a cut of Measure J funds since the measure passed, claiming they are eligible because the ballot language states one-third of the three-quarter cent municipal sales tax would go to “Pasadena public schools.”

Charter schools are public schools funded by the PUSD. They operate as independent schools with freedom from some of the regulations that are imposed upon regular district schools. Charter schools are accountable for academic results and upholding the promises made in their charters.

Local public schools will start receiving Measure I money this summer. Those funds will go toward the district’s state-mandated 3 percent reserve and restoring programs.