Moody’s upgrades bond rating for La Cañada schools

Having earlier this year received good news from a feasibility survey that indicated voters will support a new school bond, the La Cañada school board was pleased to learn Tuesday that LCUSD has received a general obligation bond rating upgrade to Aa1 from Moody’s Investor Service.

The district’s previous rating was Aa2; the upgrade will affect $12.3 million of outstanding debt.

“The upgrade is good for our district,” said Board President Dan Jeffries. “If we went out for a bond in the fall, we’d be able to do more.”

Moody’s rationale for the upgrade included the school district’s “proactive nature” of its management, balanced budgets and financial numbers that are “in line” for the short and long term, Jeffries added. The upgrade also reflects continued growth in the school district’s large, stable and wealthy residential tax base, as well as an expectation for a stable financial profile going forward, according to Moody’s.

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LCUSD also has healthy reserve and liquidity levels, stable positive enrollment and a below average debt burden that has rapid payout, an average pension burden and a low unfunded Office of Post Employment Benefits liability.

Mark Evans, chief business and operations officer, said the support from the community is what truly triggered the Moody’s upgrade.

“It puts us in a better position when evaluating a bond,” he said.

District survey results reviewed

Also on Tuesday, Supt. Wendy Sinnette distributed to those attending the regularly scheduled school board meeting the 2016-17 LCUSD district-wide survey results. They will be sent to stakeholders in an email newsletter and posted online as well.

Among other highlights, Sinnette’s report noted a significant increase in school staff feeling supported by the school board and making decisions in the best interest of the students (the results showed a boost in both those fields from 42% in 2013 to 91% in 2017 and from 46% in 2013 to 90% in 2017, respectively). There was also a major swing in positive staff morale, from 7% in the earlier survey to 60% this year, as well as a big swing in a question pertaining to relevant and timely feedback received on performance and progress toward goals (9% to 84%).

For fourth through sixth grade students, Sinnette noted a 15% drop in students saying they felt music class was exciting and interesting and a 7% drop in students saying they have a close relationship with at least one adult mentor at the school.

“That’s worrisome,” Sinnette said of the latter result.

Among seventh- and eighth-grade students, there was a 9% increase in those who believe feedback is handled fairly and applied equally, and a 9% increase in students who found it easier to make an appointment with a counselor when needed.

The survey showed that 10% fewer students in grades nine through 12 believe they get needed feedback and are being kept well-informed about activities, events and opportunities. There was also a 10% drop in the number of students who believe the school administration is visible and supportive.

Family surveys for grades seven through 12 showed a 20% increase in students requiring a tutor in one or more subjects.

Sinnette said she was pleased that the survey revealed 82% of parents feel it is a safe school district.

In other business before the school board this week:

  • LCHS Associate Principal James Cartnal presented first reading of the course descriptions for LCTV 2, a second studio and intermediate video production course proposed for the curriculum. It will allow students to experience both the creative and technical aspects of filmmaking and video production in conjunction with learning about historical and contemporary traditions and conventions. Cartnal also presented a first reading new course description for “Principals of Engineering - Project Lead the Way II,” where students will expose students to some of the major concepts they will encounter in a post-secondary engineering course.
  • Evans introduced a new director of fiscal services for the school district, Gretchen Bergstrom, who is working on an improved online purchasing platform. Site office managers will eventually be able to enter requisitions through the online portal and the approvals process will lead back to Evans’ office for purchasing.
  • Evans also announced a board workshop has been scheduled for 6 p.m. on April 27 at the LCUSD board room to work on the facilities master plan. A cost analysis will be presented, as well as feedback from a municipal advisor on evaluating requests for qualifications for appointing a bond council, in case the district proceeds to go for a bond.
  • Jeffries noted he recently received two letters advocating about wearing uniforms at the high school, saying the letter cited “a number of good valid reasons,” and used a Long Beach school as an example that recently made the change.
  • Sinnette said Manhattan Beach schools are the only school district so far to publicly support state Sen. Anthony Portantino’s (D-La Cañada Flintridge) proposed 8:30 a.m. school start time bill, SB-328. Sinnette and the board agreed they should give feedback at its next meeting and prepare a resolution.

Matt Sanderson is a Times Community News contributing writer

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