La Cañada school district gets ready for the worst

The way Californians vote on Nov. 6 could decide La Cañada Unified School District's future.

If voters approve Proposition 30, which raises sales tax to 7.5% and hikes income tax on individuals making more than $250,000 a year, the La Cañada district can maintain services at their current level.

But if Gov. Jerry Brown's initiative isn't passed and La Cañada, like other state school districts, sees a $455 per-student per year drop in funding, the school district would be forced to cut services or find new funding.

“If the governor's initiative fails, the impact for La Cañada, which is already assumed in the budget, is $1.8 million (for 2012-13),” Stephen Hodgson, the LCUSD's deputy superintendent of business, said during a school board meeting last month.

With support for the initiative slipping in recent polls to about 54%, the district is bracing for the worst.

“We're planning as if that initiative does not pass,” Hodgson said.

While La Cañada's budget was drafted as if Prop. 30 will fail at the polls, the state budget was balanced in June under the premise that voters will approve the initiative. If they don't, $6 billion will automatically be cut from state K-12 education, community colleges, colleges and universities and public safety.

The La Cañada district's total hit would be $7.1 million over the next four years.

Other school districts are looking at furlough days or personnel cuts, but La Cañada officials likely will go in another direction. The district may either ask community members to increase their already generous contributions to the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation or pursue an increase of the district's current $150 per parcel tax.

Due to the way the foundation's funds can be used, however, an increase in the recommended donation, which is currently $2,500 per district family, may not be the sole answer.

“The community has been looking for a sustainable solution,” board president Scott Tracy said during board member comments at the board's September meeting. “What is clear in the current budget is the way we're allocating moneys is not sustainable. So even with the $2.1 million from the community to the foundation, we're still deficit spending by over $2 million.”

District officials are keenly aware that asking the community for more money is a delicate proposition. Just how the district asks is of paramount importance, so the district needs to make sure its house is in order before articulating that message, according to board member Andrew Blumenfeld.

“I also think that as we start to look at the post-November reality — of needing to deal with our own communication strategy and our own parcel tax extension and expansion — that we're going to need to really have a firmer understanding … of what the gap is that we're facing,” he said.

The La Cañada school board will meet on Oct. 30 to discuss ways to trim any remaining fat from the current budget and refine its contingency plans. Meanwhile, district officials are watching, waiting and continually crunching the numbers.

“The budgeting process is ongoing,” Hodgson said. “It's hourly.”

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