District hires 30 teachers

Thanks to an improved funding picture, the La Cañada Unified School District recently hired 30 temporary teachers, Supt. Wendy Sinnette reported at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

The improved funding outlook is due to three things, she reported. The first is that enrollment registration numbers are up for the coming school year.

The second involves a gift of $1.1 million from the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation.

And a third involves an additional $900,000 in parent contributions earmarked for class-size reduction.

The hirings, some for full-time positions and others for part-time positions, make it possible for there to be no k-3 class that exceeds 21 students this year, Sinnette said.

The district also targeted ninth-grade English language Arts, Algebra 1and 1B, geometry and geometry honors, bringing class-size ratios to 25-1, Sinnette said. Class sizes of 17, 18, 19 and 20 students could be seen at grade levels across school sites. The district is obligated by its contract with the teachers union to maintain a student-teacher ratio of no greater than 33-1.

“Compared to last year, I think our students will be very, very happy,” Sinnette said.

While board member Joel Peterson agreed this was positive news, he also expressed concern.

“Are we jeopardizing our longer term financial liability and sustainability to maintain reasonable class sizes?” he asked.

Sinnette acknowledged that the hiring to reduce class size presented a double-edged sword because it loads K-3 and ninth grade with teachers hired temporarily with one-time funding. They will have to be let go in April. Doing so hurts staff morale, Sinnette continued, but hiring these teachers as temporary employees allows the district to reevaluate whether the 2012-13 budget will provide for them next year.

Peterson wondered whether the district was required by the foundation to deploy all $900,000 earmarked for class-size reduction this year, raising the possibility of spending a portion of the windfall this year with an eye toward saving a portion of it for next year’s budget.

In light of looming state per-student funding cuts coupled with projected decreased student enrollment, Peterson raised the possibility of being able to honor the district’s public commitment to reduce class sizes that was made when soliciting contributions from the community and still reserve a portion of the money for next year.

With the kind of outreach done at a January town hall meeting and a concerted effort to let people who gave money experience the benefits of the gift, Sinnette said she worried that the funds could become potentially encumbered or the transparency of their use clouded, leaving the community to feel their contributions were being used to shore up budget shortfalls.

“A lot of people in student services right now are saying that some of the writing on the wall is becoming increasingly apparent for the triggers that could cause mid-year cuts,” Sinnette said.

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