By Christian Leonard
The La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board reviewed on Tuesday its proposed 2019-20 budget and estimated revenue and expenditures, which included projected losses to the general fund balance for the next two fiscal years.
The general fund reserves are projected to decrease by about $1.8 million in 2019-20, with an additional net decrease of nearly $2.4 million over the following two years. The decrease for 2018-19, meanwhile, is estimated at about $410,000. However, even after taking into account funds set aside for projects and recurring purchases such as textbooks, the board’s reserves will remain above the amount required, with about $2.3 million projected to remain in the 2021-22 budget.
Total expenditures for the current fiscal year are projected at just over $48 million and expected to rise next year to more than $50 million. Mark Evans, the district’s associate superintendent of business and administrative services, explained during the meeting that the budget assumes natural increases in expenditures, including already negotiated salary hikes and pension increases, to avoid variables that might present unexpected costs in the future.
“We had some really wonderful negotiations, some good agreements, and that has again given us some confidence and some stability in our numbers going forward. … [But] making decisions in good times, we have to make sure we can survive when it turns south — and it will turn south,” Evans said.
Evans also cited several factors that affect the district’s revenue and expenditures, including the loss of gap funding that was present during the transition to the state’s current education funding formula, cost-of-living increases, committed funds taken from the balance over several years and new state funding for schools providing special education programs.
The school district’s largest source of revenue results from the state formula and is expected to increase by more than $1 million each year, exceeding $37.7 million by 2021-22.
A major factor affecting the projected budget is the LCUSD parcel tax, passed in 2014 but expiring in 2021. The end of the tax, Evans said, will contribute to a significant decrease in locally obtained revenue, projected to fall from almost $8.2 million in the 2020-21 fiscal year to about $5.6 million the following year. As a result, expenditures will be mitigated by cutting more than $2 million from the certificated and classified salary budgets between those fiscal years, as well as by decreasing the supplies budget by $500,000.
However, Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said in an email Wednesday that the board expects the parcel tax to be renewed in 2021, so officials do not expect to make layoffs. If the tax is not passed, the board would have to “adjust programs and class sizes accordingly,” Sinnette said.
During the meeting Evans noted the role the local community’s donations and contributions have played in funding the district’s activities.
“Our community is a huge part of keeping us where we are,” he said.
The budget will undergo a second reading at the next board meeting.
TENTATIVE RULING ON BIG DIG
The board addressed a Los Angeles Superior Court judge’s tentative decision to halt the Devil’s Gate Dam project, also known as the Big Dig.
Judge James Chalfant, who ruled in 2017 that the Arroyo Seco Foundation and Pasadena Audubon Society’s objections to the sediment removal project were insufficient, said on Monday that the county’s revisions to the plan did not include an updated environmental impact report, according to the case document. Board member Dan Jeffries said the foundation and the county will continue the hearing on July 30 to negotiate a settlement, but emphasized that the board is not involved in the litigation.
Sinnette noted that a recommendation for additional air-quality monitoring devices to be placed at La Cañada High School had been passed on to the company advising the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works. Sinnette also reported the board has yet to develop a concrete plan with the county to reduce health hazards as requested by the district and the city of La Cañada Flintridge, but said the district is working with the county on the issue.
A county spokesman said work at the site continued Wednesday as usual.
LCUSD LAUDED FOR ACADEMICS
Sinnette congratulated students on finishing the school year and brought up two awards the district had earned.
The Learning Policy Institute recognized the district as a “positive outlier” where students “are beating the odds relative to the socioeconomic conditions in their communities.” LCUSD was commended for the high performance of both its Hispanic students and white students, ranking fifth on the list of California “positive outlier” districts for the former.
All three La Cañada elementary schools and LCHS 7-12 were also named as California honor roll schools by the Educational Results Partnership, sponsored by the Campaign for Business and Education Excellence, and recognized for their academic excellence improvement and reduction of achievement gaps. Sinnette said only 26 districts received this award.
LCHS CONSTRUCTION ONGOING
The board unanimously ratified two LCHS building contracts, one for a cafeteria improvement submitted at $1.195 million and the other for the band room and drainage improvement, including work on the parking lot, submitted at $945,000.
The bids, both won by Chalmers Construction Services, were less than the board’s combined estimate of $2.567 million, though Evans warned complications with the older buildings could present additional costs. The projects are on schedule, with the parking lot and drainage renovations projected to finish in July.