Guest Column: Schools need $2500 from stakeholders annually

By now, most of you have heard the news. Our school district is facing an unprecedented financial crisis.

The school board created a task force to help us all do our part to weather this storm. Our campaign is going to kick off officially in late January. For a number of reasons, however, we felt we needed to speak to you all immediately.

The problem has grown worse

The state of California, which is the primary source of funding for our school district, is in terrible financial shape. For years, Sacramento has failed to provide the funding it promised us.

Our district was able to manage. But the shortfall is greater than ever and we fully expect that the state will actually cut this year's funding in the middle of this school year and that the state will cut again, even more deeply, in July.

The bottom line? We are facing a gap of $6 million for 2011-2012. This represents the difference between our funding in 2007-2008 and our current level, plus the widely-held likelihood of on-going cuts. The district is out of options for bridging a deficit of this magnitude without severe impact to our educational program. Six million dollars accounts for a huge chunk of our $32 million budget. If we fail to raise these funds ourselves — and not just for this year, but for the five years we believe this crisis will last — we will all feel the impact, starting next September.

And it will get worse with each passing year.

What's at stake

In many ways, La Cañada is like a factory town. Our factory is our school system. It's the prime reason our community is such a wonderful place to live and work. It's what sets our property values apart from the communities around us. If our class sizes explode, if we lose our ability to maintain AP courses, arts and athletics, if we cannot afford aides or counselors, then we damage the very bedrock of our community.

Our businesses, our homes, our children and our community are all at risk.

What you can do right now

Because of this, we are asking everyone with a stake in our schools to contribute at least $2500 on an annual basis until this crisis is over. It is quite likely we will be asking even more from those of you who are particularly fortunate.

While this is more than we have asked in the past, it's well in line with amounts requested by other successful school districts like San Marino, Manhattan Beach and Palo Alto. We believe this amount will protect us from the devastating budget shortfall from the state. It's not a number we want. It's a number we need.

In the coming weeks, we are going to make a clear case for why this crisis is like no other we've faced. We're going to spell out exactly what will happen if we fail to raise these funds, as well as what will happen if we succeed. However, we know some of you will wish to take advantage of the charitable tax deduction in 2010, so we're letting you know early what we're expecting of our community.

All donations should be sent to the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation, which has been designated by the task force as the contribution administrator. To make a donation, please write a check to LCFEF and mail it to:

LCF Educational Foundation

Wells Fargo

Dept. 8258

Los Angeles, CA 90084-8258

The Foundation will send you a receipt for your tax-deductible donation.

If you prefer to make a donation online, please visit: lcfef.org/donate.

If you have any questions, please contact the Foundation's executive director at ed@lcfef.org or at (818) 952-4268.

Thank you so much. We know these are tough times, but the heart of our community is in danger. We have no choice.

JOEL PETERSON and SCOTT TRACY are co-chairs of the LCUSD Task Force. Peterson is clerk of the school board and Tracy is its vice president. They can be reached at jpeterson@lcusd.net and stracy@lcusd.net, respectively.

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