La Cañadans receptive to possible $149-million school bond measure, survey reveals

Local voters care more about improving the quality of education in La Cañada schools than preventing tax increases, which bodes well for La Cañada Unified School District officials as they consider placing a $149-million school bond on the November ballot.

Charles Heath, partner at San Francisco-based TBWB Strategies, and Tim McLarney, owner of Encinitas survey research firm True North Research, delivered to the school board the main findings of a two-week email and telephone survey, which polled 454 district voters on a number of issues and priorities pertaining to a general obligation school bond. Such a bond would fund improvements to facilities at all district campuses.

The initial results look promising, the pair reported, with about 65% of respondents saying they would either probably or definitely support a school bond, as opposed to 27% who said they would not. A general obligation bond needs 55% of voter approval in order to pass.

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"We're starting this measure in a really positive position," Heath told the board. "If we can adequately tell our story about the needs that you've identified, and the smart plan you've developed to address those needs, we have a very good chance of success."

Surveyors asked voters to rank issues most important to them, and found 84% of respondents said maintaining local property values was either very or extremely important. Educational quality ranked second, with 80% answering in the affirmative. By comparison, only 53% of those surveyed gave the same importance to preventing local tax increases.

Adam Bauer, chief executive and president of Irvine-based financial adviser Fieldman, Rolapp and Associates, found that keeping homeowners at around their existing tax level — roughly $60 per every assessed $100,000 — but extending it out over decades would go over better with residents than a tax increase.

"It's a new tax, but you're not increasing what taxpayers would be paying," Bauer said.

McLarney reported that when this explanation was made clear to survey participants, overall support for a bond jumped up to 70%. Respondents also indicated maintenance and repair of current facilities, student safety and technological upgrades in science labs and classrooms as projects and programs they'd be most likely to support.

"At the end of the day, voters don't care so much about buildings and facilities as they do what the building and facility improvements will enable in the classroom, in terms of improving the quality of education," Heath told board members. "So as you move forward with a bond measure, if that's what you choose to do, it's really important to keep that in mind."

School board members will have to decide by Aug. 11 whether to pass a resolution calling for a bond. After that, a community-driven advocacy campaign would begin in advance of a Nov. 7 vote.

Classroom cuts

La Cañada Unified officials announced Tuesday small preliminary cuts will be made to La Cañada High School's arts, English and world-language programs due to a lack of student enrollment. Decisions about reductions in service must be made by a March 15 state deadline for the upcoming school year, according to Assistant Supt. of Human Resources Jeff Davis.

LCUSD Supt. Wendy Sinnette explained that cutting one high school ceramics class, two French/Spanish classes and one high school English class came as the result a lack of student interest and could be reversed were enrollment trends to shift.

"We always hope we're able to rescind these when we run the student numbers," she said. "But this is a precaution to make sure we've maximized efficiencies in our staffing."

Also on Tuesday, the school board:

Announced the creation of the Instructional Innovation Fund (IIF) program, newly established by the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation to allow teachers a chance to fund projects, trips or equipment that might enhance the teaching and learning experience.

Reviewed an administrative regulation detailing how LCUSD's board policy regarding the solicitation and selling of independent courses on school campuses would be executed and adhered to. Members expressed an interest in finding a way teachers might use a "blind" enrollment method to minimize potential conflicts of interest.

Agreed to further refine the district's policy and administrative regulation regarding how and when assessments may or may not be sent home with students for parental review. Discussion focused on whether tests might be emailed, if parent-teacher meetings should be encouraged and teachers' uneasiness about having certain exams disseminated among students.

Discussed adopted Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's "Math in Focus" textbooks for grades 7 and 8, and the district's new method of including parent input in the process. Some audience members said they felt more could be done to include parents earlier on and make more meaningful parent representative selections.

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Sara Cardine, sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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