Op-ed: Make LCUSD a charter district

Finding sufficient funding to maintain the high-quality of the La Cañada Unified School District has been a continuing problem in La Cañada Flintridge for most of the 32 years I have lived here. Having enough money is the means to the end of maintaining high standards. A committee of parents from our city proposes adding Sagebrush-area children to the LCUSD (“Parents call for district change,” June 6), which would have the effect of bringing more dollars to the district. Numerous attempts to do this have been tried in the past and all have failed.

For this effort to succeed, the Glendale Unified School District, to which Sagebrush students “belong,” must roll over so that we can take their students and the valued state funding that comes with them. How sad that these children are viewed as commodities rather than people who should have a right to choose the school they attend.

I see no reason for optimism. Rather, I see an expensive legal battle that we will probably lose.

I have a proposal that I encourage the citizens’ committee to consider. However, I want to get our priorities straight before presenting my alternative.

The goal should be to have high-quality schools in La Cañada Flintridge and, if possible, permit Sagebrush students a choice. La Cañada High is one of the top-100 high schools in America. But is that good enough? I believe not.

As a part-time professor, I have watched the deterioration of American-educated students at both USC and UCLA for three decades. The best American-educated students, such as LCUSD graduates, rarely do better than just squeaking through my class with an A- (I had one of those rare exceptions last semester at USC). They have averages far below foreign-educated students. Why? The answer is trivial — they are victims of a dumbed-down education that severely handicaps their proficiency in mathematics. Is that good enough for our community?

Adding more students to the district won’t cure the problem that LCUSD has. The problem stems from having a regular school district. As such, we are not only beholden to the whims of Sacramento politicians for funding, but also for the choice of curriculum and textbooks.

There is an alternative path our city can take to do an end run around the GUSD and the California Board of Education — convert the LCUSD into a charter district. Here are some of the facts about a charter district.

1. Such a district gives the LCUSD far more control over curriculum and text books.

2. All La Cañada children currently in the LCUSD remain in the district.

3. The LCUSD can add students from surrounding areas provided it does not change the district’s racial and ethnic balance.

4. Creating a charter district cannot be done for the sole purpose of adding students.

Arguments that the state government is stingy when it comes to funding for a charter district are vacuous. The LCUSD is currently fifth lowest in per-student funding of all districts in California. Assuming the LCUSD is as magnificent as we are all led to believe, students will flock to our schools and increase enrollment, and the attendant state funding, dramatically.

The rationale for going the charter district route would be to adopt a mathematics curriculum such as that developed at Hillsdale College that would be a showcase for our community, state and nation to follow. Perhaps then the rare La Cañada High graduate who did so well in my USC class last semester will be the rule, not the exception.

The process won’t be without challenges. The teacher’s union will oppose it. The La Cañada school board has not been receptive to the charter district concept. I believe that a truly dedicated effort by the citizens’ committee could overcome these obstacles.


DAVID C. WILCOX has been a part-time professor at UCLA since 1983 and at USC since 1989. He was a candidate for the LCUSD Governing Board in 2009.

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