Discussion at the La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board’s meeting this week indicated that the panel wishes to place a parcel tax measure renewal vote on the March 2020 ballot, and will work toward building momentum to that end.
School officials offered a timeline — with steps including building consensus among taxpayers, fashioning a measure that would most appeal to voters and supporting a community advocacy campaign — for a possible renewal measure, and asked for feedback at the district’s website at lcusd.net.
“It’s important for us to note all funds stay within the district and all funds are dedicated toward supporting education,” Superintendent Wendy Sinnette told the board Tuesday night, referring to the anticipated tax. “They cannot be taken by the state and they cannot be used for [LCUSD] administrative salaries. As we look at the future parcel tax, what the board is recommending is an extension, not an increase.”
The tax would have a no-sunset clause, meaning it would have to be ended by voters, she said. Sinnette added there is a commitment to a continued exemption for property owners ages 65 and older.
At a special board meeting in August, consultants hired by the district said there was about 73% support to extend the tax measure at its current rate, Sinnette said.
“The board is going to engage, as is district administration and all of our community, in outreach, in consensus building, in listening to you as to what the priorities are, how you think the dollars should be spent and how we can get you to support and advocate for the measure,” Sinnette told an audience attending the meeting at school district headquarters.
Board members have until Dec. 6 to determine if they want to approve language for a parcel tax measure on the March ballot. If approved, the board would then back away from active advocacy, and the proposed tax renewal would become a community action campaign.
Board members appeared to be on board with the tax. One of them, Dan Jeffries, said the business of La Cañada Flintridge has always been its schools, adding it was important to note the intent to continue the senior exemption.
“I think what is fascinating is a very high percentage of our seniors chose not to take advantage of the exemption,” Jeffries said. “I think that says a lot about our community supporting schools.”
Board member Ellen Multari said the LCUSD gets $2,200-$2,500 less per student in state funding than other districts in California because it benefits less from funding formulas — the district has fewer children receiving free and reduced-price lunches, for instance — than other schools, so the tax renewal would be helpful.
“That’s why it really falls on us as a community to back these kinds of measures,” Multari said. “It really is the difference between a more mediocre school district and an excellent school district.”
Board Vice President Joe Radabaugh noted that while a recent Measure LCF bond was for much-needed capital projects, including school buildings and infrastructure, the parcel tax is separate and its revenues go into the general fund for teachers and instructional programs.
“They complement each other,” Radabaugh said.
The estimated cost to the district for a parcel tax election is about $120,000. Consultants recommend that it be offered at the current rate of $450 per parcel, with adjustments for the annual consumer price index to offset inflation. The vote would extend a tax that was passed in 2014 and is set to expire in June 2021.
LCHS science instructor Richard Weld, who said he represented members of the La Cañada Teachers Association, said his organization enthusiastically supported the measure.
“We understand, as everyone has been mentioning, that state funding is inadequate for the world-class schools we provide here in La Cañada,” Weld said. “We need this extra funding.”
INCLUSION CONSULTANT INSTALLED
Board members also installed Christina Hale-Elliott as the new diversity, equity and inclusion consultant. Her contract is for $95,000, with funds coming from the district’s 2019-20 general fund.
“Her skills, strengths and talents appear to be an optimal match for our district,” Sinnette said before the board voted to approve the appointment.
Hale-Elliott, who noted she earned a master’s degree in teaching and curriculum from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, detailed what she hopes to accomplish. In the first two months of her tenure she plans to create a diversity, equity and inclusion report focused on district strengths and weaknesses to help create a similar plan for this school year.
During the first two months, Hale-Elliott’s “action steps” will include meetings with the superintendent and other stakeholders to solidify the scope of the work and define diversity, equity and inclusion.
During the meeting, she presented samples of what could be district strengths, such as an implementation of a family learning series to improve engagement and adoption of an elementary social-emotional learning curriculum and approach. Samples of weaknesses included a decline in student perception of fair treatment related to race, culture, orientation and other factors and a disproportionate suspension rate for black students.
From November through May, she plans on taking the steps to implement the plan. The progress of the plan will be assessed and a diversity, equity and inclusion sustainability plan will be developed from June to July.
“We have to be constantly checking our bias and checking our practices and seeing here there’s room for growth,” Hale-Elliott said.
Radabaugh said he “100%” endorsed her hiring and felt her background was highly impressive. Other board members echoed his comments.
“I can’t wait to see you start down this journey,” Radabaugh said before the board voted to approve her.
SAGEBRUSH TRANSFER RESOLUTION APPROVED
A resolution calling for the “territory transfer” of the Sagebrush area into the LCUSD was also approved by the board, with multiple residents speaking in favor of the move.
The purpose of the resolution was to signal support of the transfer ahead of an Oct. 2 Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization meeting in Downey, where that panel is expected to discuss the transfer and could rule on it.
Residents of Sagebrush, which is in the western part of LCF, long have sought to be included in the LCUSD rather than in the Glendale Unified School District, which opposes a transfer.
In a presentation, Sinnette said a possible territory transfer was first introduced in 1961, resurfaced in 1978 and again in 1991 before the current effort began in July 2013.
“What we heard from them is they identify with their city community,” Sinnette said.
She said the transfer would not cause a significant increase in school facility costs because some students will elect to remain in the Glendale district; a transfer would not happen immediately; the district could maintain its class-size commitments; and no temporary or portable housing would be required.
“There is no classroom crisis within LCUSD,” Sinnette said.
Currently, there are 221 permitted students from Sagebrush attending LCUSD schools, she said.
Nick Karapetian of Unite LCF, which supports the transfer and had many of its members in the audience, thanked the board for its backing. He said more than 800 residents signed a petition of support five years ago.
Karapetian said the effort was important because the GUSD could decide to stop Sagebrush residents from transferring to the LCUSD if it wanted.
He said it was vital for all Sagebrush residents to attend the meeting on Oct. 2.
The board’s Jeffries said that the GUSD was incorrectly informing others that the LCUSD could not handle extra kids because it was full.
“We need to get the message out loud and clear to say we are fully capable,” Jeffries said.
SUPERINTENDENT’S CONTRACT EXTENDED
Sinnette was given a contract extension and pay increase, making her annual salary $274,793 as of Oct. 1. The district reserves the right to increase Sinnette’s salary at any time, for any or all years of the contract, subject to board approval in open session at a regularly scheduled meeting.
“We’re so lucky to have you,” said board President Brent Kuszyk.
Sinnette currently makes $260,916. Her base salary when she took over for retiring Superintendent Jim Stratton in 2011 was $161,000.