LCF residents speak up to board: student threats, parcel tax

Residents unhappy with the La Cañada Unified School District's response to student threats, as well as its apparent hopes to seek another parcel tax, turned out at the school board meeting Tuesday to express their views.

The first discussion took place after a presentation on the district's threat assessment process made by counselors and psychologists at La Cañada High School and Palm Crest and Paradise Canyon elementary schools. Those experts joined with Tamara Jackson, the district's director of special education, to update the public on crisis response in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting and the March 1 campus death of LCHS student Campbell Taylor.

"This is an effort to protect our children from every kind of harm, whether it's self-injurious or a kind of harm coming from another student," LCHS school psychologist Ana Aydinian said in the presentation.

The team outlined the collaborative processes for dealing with student threats of harm and violence in which counselors and staff work to assess the situation, contact parents, and coordinate mental health care and follow-up.

School board member Joel Peterson explained his own encounter with the procedure six years ago, when a statement his son, then in the third grade, made was construed as a threat. He referred to that process as "stringent and inflexible," but expressed his overall appreciation, especially regarding self-threats.

Two parents, however, told the board about their personal interaction, and dissatisfaction, with LCUSD's threat assessment process. Mary White said when a claim was made against her child, she asked for evidence and information that would clarify the process. Her request was rejected, she said.

"I was told there were no files, there was no data and a decision [had been] made. And it was a terrible decision," White said. "The district needs to have a process so that a parent two hours away … who gets a phone call will have confidence there's a firm process in place."

Parent Belinda Randolph briefly shared a similar encounter, agreeing with board member Andrew Blumenfeld's request that a board policy be made requiring the threat assessment process be adhered to districtwide.

Parcel tax

Also discussed Tuesday was the parcel tax survey of property owners within LCUSD boundaries that is expected to roll out in mid-May. Subcommittee members worked with consultant Charles Heath to reframe questions and select various funding scenarios that would help close the district's budget gap.

The last parcel tax, approved by voters in 2009 at $150 per parcel, expires in 2014, potentially leaving LCUSD short $900,000 annually.

While actual amounts were not made public, board members said the questions would inform parents of the repercussions of not passing the tax in a spring 2014 vote, including program cuts and eliminating class-size reduction measures.

"We started with a number that pretty much fills the structural deficit need," said board member Susan Boyd, who serves on the subcommittee with Blumenfeld. "The point is to see if we can get to a 66% (positive) response to the highest dollar amount."

Two members of the public spoke out against the survey and another parcel tax. La Cañada resident Denise Soto read a prepared statement about the $20,000 survey.

"The money would be best used finding solutions that do not raise our taxes," Soto said. "It's time to research and implement new ways in educating our youth. Our California government worker benefits are bankrupting our state, and we the taxpayers are asked to compensate for that."

La Cañada resident Rex Nishimura said the 2009 parcel tax was initially passed as a temporary solution. "Now we find ourselves faced with the possibility that the temporary is permanent," he said. "Save the $20,000 and let the tax die. Find other resources; find other ways to save money."

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