LCUSD unaffected by extracurricular activities settlement

It will be business as usual for the La Cañada Unified School District while other education officials brace for a dramatic shift in how their extracurricular activities are funded.

A recent lawsuit settlement invokes existing state law that bars schools and their affiliates from charging students fees for programs like sports teams, musical ensembles and cheer squads. Members of the La Cañada Unified Governing Board said the district doesn’t have mandatory fees for the district’s extracurricular programs, so there will be no impact on LCUSD schools.

“We do not charge fees for extracurricular programs,” said board member Joel Peterson.

Students and parents may be asked to provide a voluntary donation to cover certain costs of the program, but it’s always clear the donation is voluntary, said board member Cindy Wilcox.

“We make it clear that funds will be provided for kids who can't pay,” she said. “We always make it clear that the suggested donation is just that — a donation.”

California education officials in December settled a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against dozens of campuses, including John Burroughs High School in Burbank, alleging that charging students for educational activities violates existing law that public school districts provide free and equitable education to all students.

The state Legislature is now considering AB 165, which would impose penalties on districts where fees have been charged illegally. The bill also would mandate that all essential educational supplies, materials and equipment be provided at no cost.

Extracurricular programs in LCUSD are largely funded by voluntary organizations like the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation, the La Cañada Spartan Boosters Club and school’s PTAs. La Cañada High’s extracurricular programs are largely funded by donations from the Boosters, which raises funds throughout the year with events like the Poker Bash on Friday and the Booster’s annual auction dinner in November.

“The program can only be run by voluntary donations from organizations like the Boosters,” Peterson said. “If they don’t make those donations, we don’t have the program.”

Officials in surrounding districts said that the lawsuit and legislation would affect current practice.

“Our district and our schools will need to rely more heavily on voluntary donations to preserve the same level of educational opportunities that students have enjoyed in the past,” said Glendale Unified Deputy Supt. John Garcia. “There are a lot of practices now, not just in our district, but in districts all throughout the state, that are going to have to be changed as a result of this legislation when and if it passes.”

While AB 165 is still pending, districts will be audited on student fees starting during the 2011-12 school year, Garcia said. He declined to estimate how many dollars for extracurricular funding come in the form of student fees. But he did say that the changes will likely impact dozens of programs, including sports teams, instrumental ensembles and choirs.

Some school officials said the changes might provide an opportunity to rein in program expenses that had gotten out of control. But others said the ACLU lawsuit would cause more harm than good, and threatens programs that families are happy to pay for.

Glendale Unified, which serves families living in the “Sagebrush” area of west La Cañada Flintridge, has clung to its music and visual- and performing-arts programs despite years of budget cuts, said school board member Mary Boger.

“We are going to have to give them up because they are going to be become cost-prohibitive,” Boger said. “That, to me, is an absolutely chilling effect.”

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