Funding woes loom as school year launches

Bells will ring in a new La Cañada Flintridge school year Tuesday, but state funding problems could transform the excitement into urgency as the year wears on.

Last week administrators at La Cañada Unified School District campuses prepared for the new year, with Paradise Canyon and Palm Crest elementary schools welcoming new students and their families to ice cream socials Thursday evening.

While district Supt. Wendy Sinnette looks forward to the new year, she is also eyeing Nov. 6, when California voters will weigh in on Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed tax hike to help fund public schools.

“One of the biggest challenges we will face will be funding cuts if the November tax initiative fails,” Sinnette said Friday. “We have weathered significant cuts from Sacramento since 2007, but there are limited options for managing such a devastating hit to the district's budget.”

Brown's initiative is one of two school tax proposals on the ballot. If the measures fail, school districts across the state could face budget reductions of $455 per student.

Despite the looming state funding issue, Sinnette said the district is poised to have a great year.

Sinnette is ushering in new principals at three schools, including La Cañada High School, and technological upgrades including a school-issued iPad for every teacher.

“There is a great enthusiasm throughout the district. Our rigorous hiring processes have landed us with three outstanding new administrators, 10 new highly qualified certificated staff members and over a dozen new classified staff who bring many talents to the district,” she said.

Sinnette, who is beginning her second year as superintendent, said strong STAR test results released last week demonstrate improvements in key subject areas, especially math. Local students made significant gains in algebra and geometry.

She credited parents for making the biggest difference in the school district.

“They give generously of their time, talent and financial resources,” Sinnette said. “The success of our schools is the result of a dynamic home-to-school partnership.”

Sinnette said class sizes in kindergarten through third grade will be 20 or 21 students per teacher, a healthy ratio supported by the La Cañada Educational Foundation's successful efforts to raise more than $2 million from residents and businesses. Much of that money is paying for teachers' salaries.

“With the challenges that face education today, success is only achieved as a collective effort,” she said. “We have that in La Cañada.”

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