La Cañada school district is under a deficit

The La Cañada Unified School District is working with a deficit of $671,704 according to Ruben Rojas, the chief business and operations officer for the district who presented the first interim budget to the school board Tuesday night.

The interim budget reflects recent changes made since a $36-million budget for the 2013-14 school year was adopted in August.

“These figures actually represent the structural deficit the district is currently operating under,” Rojas told board members.

This figure is lower than the $800,000 deficit officials were anticipating when the budget was passed, but is still a cause for concern in a district that strives for fiscal prudence, Rojas said.

La Cañada Unified, like all California school districts, is required to submit updated accounting figures to the state by Dec. 15 in order to certify that it is able to meet its financial obligations for the remainder of the year.

But Tuesday's report was also a good snapshot for the three newly elected school board members who assume responsibilities at the next regular board meeting, replacing Board President Scott Tracy and members Susan Boyd and Joel Peterson. The new members, Kaitzer Puglia, Dan Jeffries and David Sagal were in attendance at the meeting.

The first interim budget reflects the impact of Gov. Jerry Brown's new Local Control Funding Formula, which will provide LCUSD with nearly $24.9 million, or roughly 68% of the total budget. They also account for the Sept. 24 donation to the district of $2.225 million from the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation as well as recent technology and special education expenditures.

“Of significance here…is that the Local Control Funding Formula is the foundation for this particular budget,” Rojas said. “We are now fully engaged with LCFF.”

Although the Local Control Funding Formula decategorizes how state dollars must be spent, state officials have identified priorities to be addressed by all districts, according to Supt. Wendy Sinnette, who discussed the matter Tuesday in her report.

Beyond that, districts must develop a Local Control Accountability Plan to outline additional local priorities, by July 1, 2014. This plan, formed by the input of all stakeholders, will help direct future budgets.

One of those potential priorities, according to Tuesday's discussion, could be an increase in the district's reserve revenue from the current amount of 3.5%, currently about $1.2 million.

Tracy said if a 100% percent reserve were enough to cover one full year of operating expenses, LCUSD's reserve could run the district a mere 13 days. He suggested the newly formed board might want to consider the possibility of raising the cushion.

“I just think 3.5% is awfully low,” he said.

Other board members concurred that an increase could be worth considering.

After the discussion of finances, the board voted to push its regularly scheduled Dec. 3 meeting back to Dec. 10 to accommodate newly elected board members, who will assume their duties on Dec. 6.

Board members also officially adopted a resolution calling for an election for voter approval of a parcel tax on March. 4, 2014 after a second public hearing, and listened to a presentation by fifth-graders at Palm Crest Elementary on volcanoes, which highlighted the kind of learning the new California Common Core content standards are already bringing into La Cañada classrooms.

In his president's report, Tracy updated the public on the progress of talks between LCUSD and Glendale Unified School District to negotiate details of a transfer of territory of homes on La Cañada's western border with GUSD.

La Cañada Unified's most recent proposal was sent to the Glendale district Nov. 4, and officials are still awaiting a response, Tracy said, describing the meetings as “constructive and productive.”

“There is a positive vibe between the parties,” he added.


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