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Donors save La Cañada teacher jobs

Educational foundation offers district $2.1M, but deficit spending will continue.

July 11, 2012|By Megan O'Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com
  • President of the La Canada Flintridge Educational Foundation Paul Murray speaks at an event earlier this year at the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena.
President of the La Canada Flintridge Educational Foundation… (Cheryl A. Guerrero…)

La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation officials this week confirmed a $2.1 million donation to the local public school district, capping a banner fundraising year that will translate directly to the classroom.

The money will allow the La Cañada Unified School District to hire back seven temporary elementary school teachers for the 2012-13 school year, meaning that no kindergarten through third-grade classes will have a student-teacher ratio higher than 22 to 1, Supt. Wendy Sinnette said at a school board meeting Tuesday.

Foundation donations also will result in the hiring of several full- and part-time teachers at secondary schools, Sinnette said.

“It is above and beyond,” Sinnette said of the fundraising effort. “You can't even imagine — most districts are cutting to the bone, and here we are being able to strategically add [teachers].”

In March, La Cañada Unified school board members approved the elimination of 18 district jobs, but pledged to restore them if community members gave generously to the foundation. The district will have an operating budget of $33.3 million during the coming school year, down about $100,000 from the previous year.

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The La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation has proved to be a life raft for the district as its peers throughout the state drown in red ink.

During the 2010-11 school year, the foundation raised $1.95 million, and subsequently dipped into reserves to round out its donation to the district to a then-record-setting $2 million, according to the foundation's 2011-12 president, Paul Murray. In 2011-12, the foundation raised more than $2.1 million.

Yet even with the foundation check, La Cañada Unified is preparing for as much as $2 million in deficit spending next year, including a potential $1.8-million cut if California voters fail to pass a tax initiative supporting schools in November.

Murray said that the successful Spring Gala at the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena — which raised more than $400,000 — and the improving economy helped drive the foundation's numbers.

The organization also upgraded its requested minimum donation of $365, or $1 per day, to about $2,500, and increased the minimum for the donor to receive a foundation yard sign to $1,000, he said.

“The message that I tried to put out this year was, ‘Whatever you can afford to give,” Murray added. “The doom and gloom of the previous years … I just felt like people had heard enough of that.”

In addition, Murray said the increased participation of Korean families, one of the district's largest minority groups, made a difference.

“You really saw it at the gala this year,” Murray said. “There were a lot of Korean families doing the underwriting for the gala.”

Recognizing the likelihood that the school district will operate at a deficit for the next several years, the foundation set a new goal of $2.5 million for the coming year, Murray said.

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