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La Cañada schools poised to start new year Monday with more than 4,200 students

With La Cañada Unified campuses preparing to start a new school year on Monday, school board members provided an update on anticipated enrollment numbers for 2017-18 in an Aug. 3 meeting and shared their own plans for the year ahead.

LCUSD Supt. Wendy Sinnette said the district is expecting approximately 4,209 students, including 1,441 students at the high school and 695 students in grades 7 and 8. Among the elementary schools, Palm Crest is expected to start the school year with about 644 students enrolled, Paradise Canyon anticipates 751 and LCE hopes to welcome about 678 students.

Although the total number of transfer student applications approved for 2017-18 were not available at press time, Sinnette confirmed after the meeting the district accepted an additional 39 elementary school student permits from the city’s westernmost “Sagebrush” area, along with 18 students in grades 7 through 12, bringing the total number of Sagebrush students so far at 142.

Currently, grades 2 and 3 at all elementary schools are full, the superintended reported, but LCUSD is continuing to maintain a 22:1 student-to-teacher ratio in transitional kindergarten through third grade and a 30:1 ratio in grades 4 through 6.

Also at the meeting, board members delivered a presentation on the recently formed Coalition for Base Funding Fairness, outlining the multidistrict group’s goals and objectives.

LCUSD approved in July entering into a contract along with five other area school districts to secure the services of Sacramento consultant Capitol Advisors, to lobby state lawmakers to increase school funding.

The coalition — comprising LCUSD, Manhattan Beach, South Pasadena, San Marino, Arcadia and Redondo Beach unified school districts — aims to increase the amount of base funding distributed through the state’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) mechanism.

LCFF provides an across-the-board base grant per student, with additional funding for districts with high numbers of low-income, English learners and foster students. LCUSD and other coalition districts have maintained the formula unfairly shortchanges districts without such populations.

The contract states the coalition will pay Capitol Advisors an annual total of $60,000 per year. La Cañada Unified’s share works out to about $6,612 per year, but factoring in the termination of a previous lobbying contract, the net increase works out to about $2,000 to $3,000 annually, officials have stated.

“We’re looking at the long-term wrap up for when we have a new governor,” Sinnette explained at the meeting. “We’re laying the seeds now for the 2018 election. It’s important work and extends beyond our district.”

According to Board Member Ellen Multari, who has been representing LCUSD at the coalition meetings, members will meet again in late August.

Multari said there are “a lot of freshman senators” who do not understand the funding formula and have cited the statewide average LCFF per-student cost as $11,000.

“Ours is $7,800 per student,” she said. “The goal here is not to take money away from those districts, but highlight the need that districts deserve an adequate need in funding.”

Multari estimated the lobbying effort would likely be a two- to three-year process.

“We have to … keep identifying inadequacies and disparities so that each student deserves an adequate base level of funding,” she added.

Board member David Sagal agreed the effort was a priority.

“This has created different classes of schools, essentially, the LCFF, and we want to fight for ours,” he said.

Matt Sanderson is a Times Community News contributing writer.

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