La Cañada Unified receives $2 million from foundation

Local residents who believe that smaller class sizes improve the quality of education were credited by a school board official for nearly doubling the annual donation from the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation to La Cañada Unified during the past school year.

La Cañada school board President Scott Tracy and Supt. Wendy Sinnette in January accepted a check for $2 million from the foundation, reflecting contributions made by the community during the 2010-2011 school year, is was announced Monday. Foundation President Paul Murray noted it was a record amount for the organization, exceeding the donation for the previous school year by $900,000.

Tracy said the district is already enjoying the benefits of last year's campaign, as all of the money donated by the foundation was raised in the prior school year and already is budgeted into this school year.

In response to parents who voiced their concerns that lower grades were the result of too many children in each teacher’s class, the student-teacher ratio was reduced this school year to an average of less than 20 students/classroom in grades K-3 (with classes ranging from 16 to 21 students) and an average of 31 students in grades 4-6, Tracy said.

“The parents certainly believe [in the need for class-size reduction],” Tracy said. “The district made a bargain with donors to allocate all contributions raised last year in excess of $1.1 million to class-size reduction.”

Tracy cautions that due to the uncertainty of next year's state budget, class sizes are expected to return to prior-year averages of about 23 students per classroom in grades K-3 and an average in excess of 31 students in grades 4-6 in the next school year. Class sizes are expected to increase at LCHS as well, he said.

“The families are very pleased with the current class sizes,” Tracy said. “But it’s absolutely at risk for next year because of the uncertainty that all California districts are facing in terms of funding.”

The all-volunteer Educational Foundation has supported La Cañada’s public schools for more than 20 years, raising funds at an annual gala event and through activities such as the Jog-a-Thon, during which students attending campuses throughout the district run laps for dollars pledged by supporters.

Last year, according to Lindsay McGregor, executive director of the foundation, there was a big push to fill in budget gaps created by the state budget quagmire.

“People stepped up and were very generous,” McGregor said of last year’s drive. “So far this year we are doing really well [in the fundraising efforts]. We are slightly ahead of last year at this time.”

In addition to helping meet class-size reduction goals, money raised by the organization also goes toward college counseling and funding of music, art, drama and Spanish programs within the district.

The organization last year also took over operating the high school summer school program after district officials announced they no longer could afford to finance the program.

Registration for this year’s summer school at La Cañada High opens today. The program is open to all students entering 9th-12th grades in the fall of 2012. It offers courses in English, Spanish, algebra, geometry, history, government, biology, chemistry, physics and physical education.

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