Declining population prompts district to lay off 9

Although La Cañada school board members expected to bump inter-district enrollment to 11% next year from the current 10% level, they learned Tuesday they may be forced to increase La Cañada Unified’s percentage of non-resident students even further due to declining resident enrollment.

While the district projects the graduation of 360 students each year over the coming three years, just 147 La Cañada children are enrolled in the incoming kindergarten class, according to Supt. Jim Stratton.

“The figure of real concern here is the number of resident kindergarten students,” Stratton said.

Accepting such small class sizes year after year could force the district to shut down one of its elementary schools and would force La Cañada High to cut back on a number of “hallmark, beacon” programs because there’s not enough bodies to fill them, said Stratton, who advocates boosting out-of-district enrollment to as much as 15%.

There has been ample interest from out-of-district families to enroll their students in LCUSD schools. Earlier this year the district received approximately 220 applications to attend local campuses from families who have at least one adult employed in La Cañada.

Seventy of the 220 out-of-district students applying to attend La Cañada public schools would be kindergartners next year, aligning with the district’s greatest need. But the answer isn’t as simple as accepting each and every applicant, Stratton said.

“You have competing values of those residents that would like the historical, traditional neighborhood school, and then you have the value of equally balanced numbers and the value of the viability of the district’s program; but the first one is competition with the other two,” Stratton said.

School board member Scott Tracy said it appears the district is left with no other choice than to raise its number of out-of-district students. Governing Board President Susan Boyd didn’t see it as a difficult decision.

“It's tough if you're thinking of it only as permit kids vs. non-permit kids. To me, the overarching principle is if we don't do something, we're jeopardizing the programs at the high school. The one thing that’s bringing people to us in the first place is the quality of our education,” Boyd said.

The district’s decreasing student population left the board with a tough decision on Tuesday, as the board voted 4-0 to eliminate nine positions in the district. School board member Joel Peterson couldn’t attend the meeting because he was out of town on a business trip.

A campus aide, secretary position and textbook media coordinator at La Cañada High, two paraprofessionals at Palm Crest Elementary and a district computer support technician are being cut because of a lack of funds. Two paraprofessionals and a sign language interpreter at LCHS are being laid off because the students they worked with are graduating this year.

“They're painful reductions, but at the same time, we find it necessary for budgetary reasons,” said Wendy Sinnette, the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources.

The board won’t make a decision on increasing the district’s inter-district enrollment until about July when the state budget is approved.

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