School district weathers storm, so far

La Cañada Unified School District is not included on a recently issued list of 174 districts that are in danger of failing to meet their financial obligations in the next two years, which one local official attributes to good planning.

The California Department of Education released its second interim status report on July 11. Thirty Los Angeles County districts are listed among 160 that might not meet their obligations through 2012, including Burbank, Glendale, San Gabriel and South Pasadena.

The fact La Cañada Unified is expected to meet its planned expenses shows it has been "diligent in managing its finances to ensure the sustainability of the educational program," said Scott Tracy, vice president of the school board.

The Los Angeles County of Education requires districts to map out their budget for the next three years, but LCUSD opts to project a budget for the upcoming four years.

"Eighty to 85% of our total expenses are compensation-related, nearly all of which is subject to multiyear contracts," Tracy said. "It is important that we understand the impact of those contracts on future years, and so planning that fourth year is a prudent approach to take."

Hodgson has worked for several local school districts over the years and said La Cañada Unified is on a short list of districts that have set themselves up to weather the economic challenges facing them.

"La Cañada has planned well for these uncertainties, but I don't think anyone banked on the length of uncertainty," Hodgson said.

Cuts to the La Cañada district's average daily attendance funding have taken a toll. The district projects it will be receiving $1,412.54 less a year per student from the state at a time when enrollment is declining.

La Cañada will not be offering any classes in the summer, which stands to save $87,405 annually.

The district projects to lose about $1.86 million in the 2010-11school year, $1.47 million in 2011-12, $2.38 million in 2012-13 and $2.55 million in 2013-14. If these projections hold true, the district will be in the hole by $458,535 at the end of the 2014 fiscal year.

Conservative spending has left La Cañada Unified with a large enough reserve, providing a cushion to let them sit through the financial uncertainty, Hodgson said.

However, La Cañada does have several resources to help keep them afloat. The parcel tax, La Canada Flintridge Educational Foundation, PTAs and Spartan Booster Club have all made life easier for the district, Hodgson said.

Still, the district has to wait for support from the state but act like it isn't coming when officials prepare their budgets.

"We have to assume no good news is coming from the state; that is the biggest problem with this," Hodgson said. "We hope at some point in time there is an improvement, but who knows when that will be."

Tracy isn't anticipating any good news in the near future.

"We need to really be careful to manage what's arguably the most important asset to our community," Tracy said.

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