Keeping our schools great

With the results of our recent election certified this Monday, I congratulate Ellen Multari and AJ Blumenfeld on their election to the board of the La Cañada Unified School District. I look forward to their contributions to the continued excellence of our district.

As this next board term commences, we as a community — led by the board — must rally around solutions to some very serious issues. While doing what is best for students is at the core of our efforts, everything is overshadowed by a very mundane topic — money. Curriculum, programs and student welfare remain our primary concerns, but we must, of necessity, first focus on funding.

On Dec. 6, the school board will further deliberate and vote on the latest budget update, which is required to be sent on to the county. This must happen even before Governor Brown makes critical budget decisions in mid-December. Current bleak economic reports at the state level are expected to trigger immediate state cuts to our budget. Alternatively, the state may defer cuts until the 2012–13 budget, when cuts may be even larger, thus “kicking the can down the road,” as the saying goes.

Even with immediate state cuts, La Cañada Unified will complete this year with the programs, class sizes and teachers currently in place. This is due to a long history of conservative planning, of watching every dollar of taxpayer funds entrusted to the district, and a very supportive, generous and sacrificing community.

Other districts are in much more trouble and are considering damaging cuts to core principles. For example, currently all districts in the state have authorization to shorten the school year by up to 15 days. In other words, they are contemplating up to 15 furlough days, when schools are closed, as the only way to balance their budgets. Luckily, “furlough days” is not in the vocabulary of La Cañada Unified, where we put students first.

Each district is required by the state to maintain a 3% reserve for economic uncertainties. Our district exceeds that minimum, maintaining a 3.5% reserve. This prudent savings has allowed us to act quickly when opportunities arise. When the state first offered dollar incentives for K-3 class-size reduction, we had funds available to immediately purchase portable classrooms to house the reduction. Other districts, scrambling to find funds, were further back in line. They could not implement class-size reduction because of their imprudent budgeting.

All districts are required by the state to budget two years out. La Cañada Unified projects three years out for better planning. A review of the financial report currently before the board shows that by the third year of our current budget plan (2014–15), we are in trouble.

The school board and community must balance painful options. We have choices. We can continue to search for alternate sources of funding, cut programs, bring in out-of-district students, or increase class size. A solution will likely require a combination of all of these. None of these solutions is ideal, yet we will have to juggle priorities.

I know that our community will continue to value the common purpose that attracts us to La Cañada — our families and our schools. Elections help to define that common purpose. I have great respect for the wisdom of the community as expressed. We can all continue to be a part of that consensus-building process. We all love the kids of our schools and can work together with the board as a community to help our youth excel.

I hope many of you will be able to attend school board meetings, bringing a cooperative, team-building spirit. Together, the board, and all of us living in La Cañada Unified, can keep our schools great.

JEANNE BROBERG is a member of the La Cañada school board who will relinquish her seat in December. She can be reached via email at jeannebroberg@yahoo.com.

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