Guest Column: Why LCUSD must manage enrollment

To those who have written letters to the Valley Sun and contacted school board members — thank you for reaching out with your suggestions. Certainly, we agree that property values are dependent on great schools. The question is, how do we maintain a top-tier program, given declining enrollment and substantial reductions in state funding?

The current school board position is that we need additional funding and more students, and the point of this column is to better explain our position. Consequently, the La Cañada Unified School District Task Force is urging parents and community members to give generously to the schools. The school board has agreed to admit more out-of-district students (permit students).

One letter writer noted that San Marino and Piedmont, both similarly competitive districts, have smaller enrollments, yet still offer a competitive education in terms of test scores and state ranking. (See table.) Not mentioned was that San Marino has about 15% permit students and parcel taxes at $1,100 per parcel. Furthermore, San Marino has budgeted nearly $5.5 million of donations in the current year, which greatly exceeds the amount raised in La Cañada. Piedmont has two parcel taxes averaging $2,349. After losing several earlier parcel tax elections, La Cañada now has a parcel tax of $150 per parcel — a small fraction of the parcel tax amounts in these competitive districts.

Test scores are important and the district is committed to maintaining LCUSD as a top-ranked district, based on California state standards tests. Our stellar results on SATs, subject tests, ACTs and other tests are important indicators of student success. Students are well served by learning the core curriculum, which is directly reflected in these various test scores.

However, students are even better served by having the additional opportunity to participate in robust specialty programs, including a broad range of Advanced Placement classes, art, music, drama, foreign languages, newspaper, yearbook, numerous sports teams, robotics club and much more. It is our observation that La Cañada offers a more comprehensive program than the other districts.

Research indicates that test scores in core subjects improve when children are exposed to rigorous offerings in foreign language, music, art and other areas. These enrichment and extra-curricular offerings are not just fun add-ons. They contribute to the substantial brain development and overall success our children exhibit during testing, writing essays and interviewing for colleges and internships.

Many competitive colleges target students with demonstrated passion, commitment and expertise in a chosen area of interest. Our students take advantage of these offerings, reflected in the rates of acceptance at top colleges. Should the 9-12 high school enrollment drop from 1480 to 800, as projected based on current primary-level enrollment, most of the specialty programs would face elimination due to lack of enrollment — even with funding from additional contributions and a possible larger parcel tax.

Thus the district is now admitting up to 15% permit students. Even if 25% of the children were permit students, we, the property owners, continue to be the sole owners of this great school system. Our resident kids will always be guaranteed enrollment in our dynamic program, where they will have the opportunity to thrive and go on to be great leaders in their colleges, future careers and communities. We can always reduce the number of incoming permit students as resident enrollment recovers without sacrificing opportunities and important high school offerings along the way. Even with 15% permit students in the upcoming year, the district still faces sizeable Sacramento funding gaps over the next several years.

Essentially, La Cañada Unified must manage enrollment to maintain the program that is critical to student success, even with substantial increases in contributions and a possible larger parcel tax. This is an important ongoing conversation for the community.

CINDY WILCOX is a member of the La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board. She can be reached at cwilox@lcusd.net

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