Donors help fill school funding holes

Where state funding is falling short, La Cañada Flintridge residents are filling in.

La Cañada Unified School District board members this week approved a $33.3-million budget for the 2012-13 school year. At the same time, they announced a record fundraising effort by the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation that will save more than jobs for temporary teachers and others.

“We have received notification from the foundation that they have reached the $2-million mark, and perhaps have exceeded it,” Supt. Wendy Sinnette said at the school board meeting Tuesday. “That is a huge piece of wonderful news.”

Foundation dollars have been critical in keeping student-to-teacher ratios low, taking average class sizes for kindergarten through third grade from about 28 students to one teacher and reducing them dramatically, Sinnette said.

“Right now, in K-3 we have one class at one site that is 23 to 1,” Sinnette said. “All of the rest of K-3 are between 18 and 22 to 1, which is hugely significant.”

In March, La Cañada Unified school board members approved the elimination of 18 district jobs, but pledged to restore them if La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation numbers hit $2 million. With the staffers' approval, district officials released a list of the names of the affected employees in an attempt to motivate families to contribute.

“At May 1, it was $1.55 million,” school board President Scott Tracy said of foundation fundraising efforts. “Thirty days later it was $1.75 million. Today, three weeks later, it is in excess of $2 million. I can't say how incredible it is that this group was able to do that.”

The budget approved Tuesday reflects an assumed $1.75-million contribution from the foundation, officials said, as well as an additional $2 million in deficit spending.

The projected $2-million shortfall in next year's budget anticipates a $1.8-million mid-year cut — or about $455 per student — that will come if voters reject a November tax initiative supported by Gov. Jerry Brown. If the measure is successful, it is expected to generate more than $6 billion in state revenue.

La Cañada Unified will absorb projected deficit spending in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years through a combination of cost-cutting measures, use of reserves and community fundraising efforts before expecting to fall $2.1 million into the red in 2014-15, according to projections presented Tuesday by Stephen Hodgson, a financial consultant with the district.

It is a scenario facing K-12 and community college districts up and down the state, as California lawmakers have made public schools bear the brunt of efforts to reduce the state's multibillion-dollar structural deficit.

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