In a regular meeting of the La Cañada School District Governing Board on Tuesday, Superintendent Wendy Sinnette tackled an update on what many students and families have been anxiously — and with trepidation — waiting to hear: What the future of learning holds in La Cañada Flintridge.
In short, Sinnette summed up, nobody is certain on a plan, but the district is working hard to create various scenarios on how it intends to open the 2020-21 school year, with possible options including staggered student schedules though an “a.m. or p.m.” possibility or even alternating days. Whatever approach is considered and decided upon, Sinnette said, she will be informing the LCUSD community as it happens.
“I know everyone is listening to the news and I think we all have more questions than answers right now,” the superintendent said, “but [we] are creating timelines for plan implementation; we are engaged in educational research looking at all kinds of options, we are identifying strengths and limitations of various scenarios, and so I want our community to be rest assured there is in-depth research taking place and we will begin to communicate in a transparent fashion all of our plan development over the next weeks and months.
“It’s good to bring people along in a collaborative fashion, especially when the impacts will be so significant for our families,” she added.
The board and cabinet are also working fervently to follow all the guidelines being outlined at the state level for a fall learning program, she detailed with some somberness, but which might prove better than the online-only distance learning seen since March, when officials closed all schools in response to the pandemic and resultant social distancing guidelines.
“We’re being told there should be no assemblies, no sport competitions, no parent conferences no large group mixing, that student home rooms should stay consistent [while] teachers should change classrooms; so all of that to say, there’s a lot to consider,” she said. “Our next phase will be to look at options, create several scenarios and collect feedback and share out, which I see as the next critical phase of our planning process.”
The discussion with board members also acknowledged Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent comment that schools may consider recalibrating the 2020-21 school year calendar to start earlier and make up for the loss of learning, although Sinnette did not confirm if that possibility is currently in the books.
There is still much else to consider, she added, including that if the district does decide to hold on-campus learning, there is some fear that families might leave for other online schooling options out of fear of COVID-19.
In other matters regarding LCUSD’s online distance learning, Sinnette advised that students and families may soon expect to hear about the end-of-year grading policy. It’s been a complex methodology so far, she noted, with students and parents reporting a wide range of learning experiences that are difficult to calibrate. Some students indicate there is too much work, while others say there is too little.
“For some their home life is quite hectic and asynchronous learning is required for those households to complete all the demand … so it’s quite complex and that’s why it’s made sense that we’ve continued an incremental approach to our decision making,” Sinnette said, adding that the district has been doing research and collecting data to provide answers on what report cards will look like. “I think we have a really strong next step process and we’ll be able to take our incremental approach and deliver guidelines to families within the next week. That’s our next big piece of information that will be communicated.”
GRIM BUDGET PROSPECTS ON THE HORIZON
LCUSD is bracing for the dire task of potentially making “some serious belt-tightening decisions,” as board members discussed the likely budget implications from significant revenue reductions for the upcoming school year, in addition to likely having some additional cuts from the current year, all thanks to the global disruption and a coronavirus-induced recession.
Administrators and school board members agreed that the district should start planning for the cuts “sooner rather than later,” and to keep the community at large fully informed to avoid mistakes seen after the 2008 recession, when the cuts took community stakeholders by surprise.
“We need to make sure we identify efficiencies wherever we can to keep our cuts away from the classroom and protect the high standards of learning that we have in our community,” Sinnette said, adding they will work to identify “how we potentially make some serious belt-tightening decisions, but always in mind with what’s best for our students, supportive of our staff and what meets the needs of our families as we march hand in hand into this new territory.”
Board President Joe Radabaugh concurred with discussing measures quickly, saying that the COVID-19 pandemic will have an unprecedented impact on budgets at all levels, including federal, state and local.
“We know this train’s coming, so given that we know it’s coming, I really want to get ahead of this so we can mitigate some of those impacts sooner rather than later,” he said.
State officials are expected to unveil mid-year changes to budgets in May, when districts typically do a “May revise” from Newsom, ahead of when districts and the state both formally adopt the next year’s budgets. In addition, the adoption of the 2020-21 budgets will be delayed until August, largely as a result of the tax return filing date being extended to July 15, again, as a result of the pandemic.
The board is expected to take a deeper dive into the potential budget fallout at its next scheduled meeting on May 19.
FENCING AND RAILING SAFETY
The board heard an update on the progress of the Facilities Master Plan which identifies several safety and security projects at each of the district’s schools.
On Tuesday, members heard a presentation to show the updated fencing design based on input provided at earlier meetings. The fencing portion of the project is scheduled for construction this summer. The railing and decking proposals are an update on the designs based on feedback from the board, the site and the input from structural and materials studies. The district said it will establish a phasing plan for the completion of this work in the summers ahead.
The fencing and railing project addresses fencing areas around the north side of the campus, and there is work to resurface upper decks on Buildings A and B as well as replace and improve railings. Consistent with guiding principles of the Facilities Master Plan and the District Safety and Security Taskforce, the design intent of the project is to improve safety and security for student and staff while maintaining a welcoming presence to the community. The estimated cost for the fencing portion is $540,000, while the railing and decking component is estimated at $1.4 million. Funds will come from Measure LCF.
Another project outlined under the Facilities Master Plan for La Cañada High School was greenlit, with the board accepting a bid of $533,777 with Golden Sun Enterprise. Funds will come from Measure LCF. This project would install fencing in areas on the north side of campus to reduce entry points and enhance security. The project will also construct a ramp to the softball field to provide accessibility to the softball field.
BOARD MEMBER ELLEN MULTARI TO LEAVE
LCUSD Vice President Ellen Multari, who has served on the board for nine years, officially announced that she will be leaving her position at the end of May, and that she and her family will be moving out of district.
Although she would have happily served out the calendar year, she noted, regulations require only LCF residents may serve on the district’s board.
“I have to say, this has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve in this capacity,” Multari said. “I’ve had the privilege of never having had a bad board meeting … some of them have gone very long, but there’s never been any lack of professionalism, there’s only ever been civility, cordiality, collegiality, and I really tip my hat to our leader, Wendy, who’s kept us well.”
The board will deliberate in the meantime on how to backfill the remainder of Multari’s term and discuss the matter at its next board meeting, said Radabaugh, with other board members saying they expect some tearful goodbyes at that time.