Piece of mind: Money and the education mess

Continually battered by the twin storms of state budget woes and declining enrollment, maybe it’s time for the La Cañada school board to take the drastic step of shuttering one of our public elementary schools.

That scenario is hinted at by two of our readers in letters to the editor this week and I think they each do a compelling job of laying out their cases for operating a leaner school district. Bigger is not necessarily better, they say, and they want all options studied.

But then there is today’s guest column written by Todd Andrews, in which he takes a look at property values and discovers that those of us who own homes within the La Cañada Unified School District boundaries enjoy a significant premium per square foot over our neighbors in the “Sagebrush” area of west La Cañada, whose children attend Glendale Unified schools.

Andrews shares the view of many of our real estate pros who say that without enough ongoing financial donations to the district, the home values here could drop because our schools might not retain their high levels of performance. He figures there’s a decent rationale to push upward (per household) annual donations to $9,250 from the $2,500 figure the LCUSD Task Force has been seeking since January.

Meanwhile, ratcheting up its efforts this week is the Task Force itself. School board and Task Force members Scott Tracy and Joel Peterson share a byline on a guest column urging more donations through the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation, since Sacramento clearly cannot get its act together and more cuts are headed this way.

Everyone’s assistance is needed, they say, and they’ll be managing a major phone-bank donation drive within coming weeks. If you can give more than the requested $2,500, they say, please do.

Take a look at the cuts that Tracy and Peterson say will have to be made if they don’t raise enough funds through donations. I suspect parents will be particularly taken aback at the size of the classes their children will be entering if the fund-raising effort falls short of its goals.

All of these opinion page submittals regarding La Cañada’s public schools were going through my mind when I opened my L.A. Times yesterday morning to see the news of the $110 million gift to USC from supporters Julie and John Mork. The funds they are donating will provide support in perpetuity for undergraduate scholarships.

The Morks’ generosity is commendable. I especially like the fact that — according to a press release I received after reading the Times’ account — they recognize that students with high promise who are given a chance to attend a particular campus in turn strengthen that school’s reputation for excellence.

I have to ask: Is there a version of the Mork family living in La Cañada Flintridge who would consider a generous donation to the schools that serve the younger set? We’re not looking for a gift of $110 million, at least not this year. About $5 million would help out — for the time being, anyway.

Of course, once that’s gone, we’ll be facing the same problem that we are today, because it’s a sure bet our state won’t ever again be funding our public schools at the level promised decades ago. What’s the answer? Leaner, tighter operations, with children in closer quarters? Shutting down one campus and renting it out to a private school? Boosting out-of-area attendance to nearly 30%, as the University of California has decided to do with its incoming freshman class? Or continuing to put our hands out for private donations? A combination of some or all of these steps?

Consider this an invitation to sound off as our writers did this week. This is very serious business and with the number of intelligent, highly-educated residents we have living here, we should be able to come up with long-term solutions. Our kids are relying on us.

CAROL CORMACI is managing editor of the Valley Sun. She can be reached via email at ccormaci@valleysun.net or carol.cormaci@latimes.com

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