School officials: District will remain strong

La Cañada's public school system will still be in good hands after the departure of Supt. James Stratton, school officials said following Monday's announcement of his pending retirement.

The news Stratton will retire at the end of the 2010-11 school year comes as a LCUSD task force has asked the La Cañada community to donate $2,500 annually to help bridge a $6 million gap in the district's budget. The gap has been created by repeated cuts to California's public education funding from the state Legislature.

Despite the economic uncertainty, Stratton will leave the district in a better position financially than most other districts, board member Jeanne Broberg said.

"The way we've come through these financial challenges is a tribute to him. It will be our task as a school board to find leadership that can somehow come up to his standards — that won't be any small task," Broberg said.

Stratton told the school board of his decision to retire in a meeting that took place during Thanksgiving break, he said.

"It's just something I've been thinking about for some time," Stratton said. "The timing is just right in terms of my age, in terms of how long I've been in the district, in terms of the goals I had for myself in the district. It's a good time to pass the leadership on and embark on some other things I want to do."

Stratton has served as La Cañada Unified's superintendent for the past six years. A former principal of La Cañada High School, he been employed by the district since 1991.

"I would hope that people would remember not the things that I did, but the things we did together as a school community," said Stratton. The achievements he listed included effectively managing resources, maintaining strong academic performance and expanding athletic and artistic programs in the midst of a state budget shortfall.

Although Stratton's retirement stands as a loss for the district, he has equipped the district with the necessary pieces to keep carrying the torch, school board member Joel Peterson said.

"He has put in place a very deep bench of leadership and management in the district so we're very comfortable and confident his leaving won't in any way cause a detrimental impact on the district," Peterson said.

Stratton agrees.

"We've got an outstanding, incredible leadership team. I think we have all the right people in place at all the sites. This is an organization that is really solid and will continue on very strong," Stratton said.

Kathy Hernandez, president of the La Cañada High School PTSA, said the district has been "lucky to have Jim Stratton as superintendent for six years and to build upon his knowledge of the last 14 years. I wish him well in his retirement."

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