LCUSD Deficit Narrows, but Official Issues Warning

With the 2019-20 school year having ended last week, the La Cañada Unified School District has shifted its focus to the future — most notably the upcoming budget and instruction in the fall.
Mark Evans, associate superintendent of business and administrative services, presented to the LCUSD Governing Board on Tuesday a first draft that included estimates for the current year and forecast a bleak future based on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s May revision of the state budget — a proposal of $203.3 billion that would significantly cut school funding due to the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s great work being done in La Cañada and we want to keep that going,” Evans said during a virtual meeting. “The May revise is going to make that a challenge. Our budget is facing some uphill battles.”
The deficit for this year came in at $827,071, far better than anticipated in March, when Evans estimated it at $2.4 million.
“This puts us in a good state as we head into this economic situation,” he said. “It will help us weather that storm.”
However, Evans acknowledged that in effect the next recession is here and warned the board that “waters may be rough ahead for a year or two,” largely because of the governor’s proposal of reducing the base grant per average daily attendance by 10%.
LCUSD received $9,544 per student for ADA for grades 9-12 in 2019-20, but that would go down to $8,590 in the upcoming school year. The deficit can balloon to $4.4 million in the next school year and increase to $5.3 million in 2022-23.
Not all news from the associate superintendent was discouraging. Evans said he was hopeful of a better state budget after the California Legislature agreed last week on a budget based on a Senate plan that would reject $8.1 billion of proposed cuts to Proposition 98 funding, which mandates a minimum level of education.
“The upside is there’s a lot of talk in Sacramento in the Legislature about school funding and eliminating those cuts so we can keep doing the great work we’ve been doing,” he said. “We’re not going to know where that lands until the Legislature finishes their work and the governor signs off on the budget.”
The governor must sign off on the new state budget by June 30, which is when the board will hear a second reading of the LCUSD budget.
The staff will continue to monitor the situation during the summer and advised the board to prepare for the discussion of reductions in the years ahead.

PARENTS, STAFF WANT A RETURN TO CAMPUSES
Results from a survey provided to LCUSD parents and staff members indicated a desire from most to resume school on campus in the fall.
Superintendent Wendy Sinnette presented data that showed 60% of parents hope to send students to school and 21% want to keep students at home with distance learning.
The staff numbers were similar, with 64% moderately comfortable returning to campus and 13% preferring to instruct via distance learning.
“I think our teachers and staff really have missed the experience of school and the connections on a day-to-day basis with kids,” Sinnette said. “That shines through with these figures.”
Sinnette commended teachers and administrators for their swift response to the pandemic. The district shut down schools on March 13 and set up distance learning days later.
The California Department of Education issued its Guidance on School Reopening on Monday, a 55-page document that Sinnette will take into consideration along with the reopening committee that is expected to be instated soon. A total of 171 applicants — 133 parents and 38 teachers — are being evaluated by the superintendent, who wants to finalize a reopening plan no later than July 31.
The district will require approval from a county health officer following local epidemiological data and must bargain over working conditions with the teachers association and California School Employees Association. Waivers — which have not been provided — will also be needed, especially regarding requirements on instructional days and instructional minutes.
Multiple scenarios and schedules will need to be in place for all local educational agencies because of the uncertainty of living with COVID-19 as Los Angeles County lifts restrictions on its Safer at Home directives.
“If the virus spikes, we want to make sure that we’re at the ready to close our school facilities again and resort to full distance learning if it is required,” Sinnette said.
Sinnette also questioned whether campuses can provide an environment that adheres to health requirements such as social distancing and face masks. She said 4th-, 5th- and 6th-grade classes can get by with two schedules instead of three, allowing for more instructional days and minutes. However, it gets much more complicated at the high school level.

DISTRICT ADDRESSES CURRENT EVENTS
With protests occurring in La Cañada Flintridge and all over the world since the death of George Floyd, Sinnette said that “it’s important to share that our planning for the future also encompasses our responsibility as a district to respond to the national and local outrage we have witnessed over the killing of Mr. George Floyd and others like Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.”
“As an educator, one initial response to the crisis regards our students, the children of LCUSD,” she added. “It’s imperative that we — the adults in their lives — help them to understand the civic responsibilities that we all share to peacefully take action, to stop injustices, counter inequalities and stand against systemic racism and hate. … LCUSD is committed to this responsibility and prepared to embrace this challenge now and in our active planning for the upcoming school year and beyond.”
The governing board hired Christina Hale-Elliott, a diversity, equity and inclusion officer, last September to assess programs across all LCUSD schools. Sinnette told the board that Elliott provided a strengths and needs assessment report that is more than 40 pages. The superintendent said Elliott cited as nearly many areas of strength as areas for growth in the district.
The draft was originally supposed to be presented during a meeting in March but was delayed because of the pandemic. The district discussed reading the second draft on Tuesday but opted to present the report during the Aug. 11 board meeting.
“I know this is urgent,” Sinnette said. “I know it’s at the fore of everyone’s consciousness but also, in terms of the calendar, a time when many people retreat from the interest of the district. And this isn’t something that in the quiet of our summer meetings we want to not get the exposure that it so powerfully deserves.
“We will commit to action. We have very strategic responses to do what is correct and needed to be done. Those involve professional development for our teachers, curricular review and assessment materials so we can better educate our children. Policy reviews so that we can provide equity and justice on our campuses and as a model. We need to educate ourselves continuously.”
After congratulating La Cañada High School students, board President Joe Radabaugh said he was “deeply moved” by the seniors’ acknowledgement of the Black Lives Matter movement and the need for meaningful change.
“It gave me real hope that this generation is on the right track and will help our nation get better along the way.”

OTHER LCUSD UPDATES
• The governing board approved operational bylaws for the Measure LC Parcel Tax Committee on Tuesday. A term system was implemented to encourage a rotation of members instead of having them elected for the length of the measures, which have gone on for as long as seven years.
• Evans said construction is underway at Palm Crest Elementary for facility upgrades and modernization.
• The board unanimously approved a contract with Chalmers Construction to install acoustic treatments in the LCHS cafeteria. Panels will be placed in the ceiling and on the walls to reduce reverberation, noise and the “bouncing around” of sound. The project, expected to be completed in three to four weeks, is possibly over budget, but not by much, according to Evans.

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