School board ponders new cuts

It became clear that cutbacks may be in the La Cañada Unified School District’s near future on Tuesday night, as the Governing Board discussed the second interim financial report and the possibility of laying off teachers and increasing class sizes significantly in the primary grades.

A total of 15 district staff members — six full-time employees and nine temporary positions — will have to come off the books if the district wants to remain solvent for the next two years, according to a budget scenario provided by Stephen Hodgson, LCUSD's financial consultant.

More than 80% of the district’s annual budget is made up of teacher salaries, school-board member Joel Peterson said.

Supt. Jim Stratton doesn’t anticipate the district having to send out any pink slips to six full-time employees by the layoff notification deadline at the end of April.

“We think that will be handled through retirees that we don't rehire, plus the nine temporary positions that would be released,” Stratton said.

Eliminating 15 positions in the district, including teachers and classroom aides, would lead to an expansion in class sizes from kindergarten to third grade in the district, Hodgson said.

“Under the scenario, K-3 class sizes would increase from the current level (an average of 22.4) to 31,” Hodgson said.

Class sizes at La Cañada High School would stay about the same, since they’re already maxed out — averaging 34 to 36 students a class. Other programs would be impacted, though, Stratton said.

“We would lose our elementary Spanish program and counseling throughout the district would be reduced,” said Stratton, if the recommended scenario is correct.

The budget scenario assumes Governor Jerry Brown’s tax measures won’t be adopted. If that happens, the estimated result would be to cut California’s average daily attendance funding by $614 per student in 2011-12. This translates to a $2.3 million cut to LCUSD’s government funding, which would increase the district’s 2010-11 deficit from 17.963%, a deficit of $4.49 million, to 19.608% from 2011-12 through 2013-14, an average deficit of $4.76 million each year.

La Cañada Unified’s second interim financial report will still receive a positive certification, but will put the district in deficit spending over the next three years.

“You just can’t sustain deficit spending,” school board member Cindy Wilcox said.

The budget scenario does not take into account any possible contribution the newly formed district task force will provide. The task force’s goal is to annually generate $6 million for LCUSD over the next five years.

Class sizes wouldn’t have to be raised if the task force meets its goal, Stratton said.

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