Brown's Prop. 30 draws cheers

La Cañada Unified School District officials can stop sharpening the budget knife now that voters have approved a statewide measure restoring $6 billion in school funding. But the district's budget challenges won't disappear entirely.

“It won't answer all the problems,” Supt. Wendy Sinnette said. “But it will allow us to take a very different, targeted approach for dealing with our future needs.”

Proposition 30, a temporary increase in sales and income taxes championed by Gov. Jerry Brown, won with 54% of the vote Tuesday. The measure maintains state support of public schools at current levels.

A separate school funding measure, Proposition 38, garnered the support of only 28% of voters.

If Proposition 30 had failed, La Cañada and other school districts would have faced debilitating cuts of $455 per student per year. With an enrollment of 4,117, La Cañada Unified would have seen a reduction of about $1.8 million per year through 2015-16.

“A million eight-hundred is a big number for a district our size,” said Scott Tracy, president of the district board of trustees.

The district's worst-case solutions might have included laying off teachers — which would have resulted in class-size increases — laying off classified staff and possibly eliminating some administrative staff.

While the district is still under tight fiscal constraints, Sinnette said passage of the initiative will enable the district to find much less painful remedies. “We'll be able to find a solution in a far less urgent and draconian way,” she said.

However, officials said the district has lost more than $17 million in state funding since the 2007-08 school year and will continue looking at ways to trim.

Possible budget reduction strategies include reducing balances in deferred maintenance, instructional materials and other funds, Sinnette said.

The passage of Proposition 30 means the district's current budget should be certified by the Los Angeles County Office of Education, officials said. Moreover, the district should have an easier time filing its multiyear budget next spring.

“We don't fall off the cliff with the $5-million shortfall in 2015,” Sinnette said.

The most effective way to bolster the district's budget — a new parcel tax— remains on the table.

The district's existing parcel tax, which voters passed in 2009, brings in about $890,000 per year and sunsets in 2014-15. The district could ask for an extension of the current levy and perhaps an increase.

True North Research is expected to begin conducting phone surveys of La Cañada voters in the coming weeks to get a feel for what the community will bear with a new parcel tax.

“As soon as the dust settles we'll send out a letter to the community explaining our situation,” Sinnette said.

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