I have attended several La Cañada social events recently. Invariably, cocktail and dinner chatter has included spirited discussions about our local schools in general, and class size and school funding in particular. And while there are differing opinions about specific issues, such as the trade-offs associated with permit students, there is a shared sense of frustration.
The fundamental issues facing our blue-ribbon school district are the erosion of funding caused by our state budget issues and shrinking enrollment. Our school board has been able to identify short-term solutions, but the underlying issues will compound over time.
Community support of the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation in its efforts to supplement our core curriculum and voter support of the parcel tax enacted in 2009 demonstrate that we recognize the need for alternative funding sources. Unfortunately, it’s easy to look at these collective efforts and feel like we’ve done enough.
To help us all feel a greater level of comfort with doing more, I offer a little financial analysis. The critical premises of my thinking are: 1) the quality of La Cañada schools is the primary driver of our premium real estate values, and 2) we need to reinvest in our schools to maintain this premium that has taken years of investment and effort to build.
I have confirmed the first assumption with an informal poll of three of the most prolific real estate agents in our community who, without hesitation or exception, identified our schools as the primary reason people buy homes in La Cañada.
There are a number of homes on the western flank of La Cañada, an area known as the Sagebrush, that are not in the La Cañada Unified School District. A comparison of the values of La Cañada homes within and outside LCUSD demonstrates the value of our high-performing schools. Based on 2010 home sales in La Cañada, those homes within LCUSD boundaries enjoyed a 22% premium per square foot. Other than schools, there is little difference between the two sections of town. Our primary community services, police and fire protection, are provided by the same agencies. There is little difference between our crime rates. We share the same view of our beautiful, albeit scorched, mountains.
Without continued support of our schools, the LCUSD premium will dissipate over time. Assuming that the entire premium would erode over the course of 20 years, this would mean an average 2,200 square foot house in LCUSD would lose $314,000 in value compared to a similar house in the Sagebrush area (assuming 2.5% annual appreciation in both areas). In order to offset this loss in personal wealth, the owner of an average house would need to set aside $9,250 (after-tax) over the same 20 years. The $2,500 ($1,561 after-tax) per household annual contribution proposed by the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation Task Force is a bargain by comparison.
Another meaningful benchmark is the per-child tuition and fees at local private-school alternatives to our public high school: $18,700 at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, $26,825 at Flintridge Prep and $27,650 at Polytechnic in Pasadena — all non-deductible. And families at these schools are asked to contribute additional amounts to cover the difference between tuition and the actual cost of education.
I am not suggesting that every household should contribute $9,250 per year, but merely trying to demonstrate the economic rationale for doing more than most of us currently are doing — my family included.
Alternatively, we can grow our own funding base to tap additional state funds. Each additional student generates approximately $5,000 of additional revenue to the district. We can set aside one night per week with no PTA meetings, no band concerts, no athletic competitions, so that the parents of La Cañada can fulfill their civic duty, light some candles, play some Barry White music and grow our average daily attendance. We can redefine parental involvement.
On second thought, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the cost of raising a child to the age of 18 is currently $222,360 for middle-income earners. Despite the ancillary benefits of my alternative proposal, I think I’ll re-think my annual giving and opt for traditional parental involvement.
TODD ANDREWS is a La Cañada Flintridge homeowner and proud parent of two LCUSD students. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.