La Cañada School Board debates non-residential students

'Hard decisions need to be made,' members are told by superintendent.

May 08, 2013|By Sara Cardine

Whether to open up La Cañada kindergarten classes to more non-residential students as part of a long-term effort to maintain high school programs was hotly debated Tuesday night, with residents and parents sharing views on both sides.

The discussion, which stemmed from an item on the agenda of the La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board meeting, came in response to Superintendent Wendy Sinnette's request for direction on whether to increase the cap for permit student enrollment in kindergarten from 25% to as high as 40% to fill underpopulated classes. Low kindergarten enrollment, Sinnette said, could ultimately affect high school enrollment and, consequently, the menu of programs and activities offered there.

"I did not mean to be incendiary with my request," the superintendent prefaced her report. "Along with the community, I value our community schools. (But) there are some hard decisions that need to be made."


The current cap restricts permit enrollment to 15% of the entire district, and 25% within each grade level. This helps the district maintain a community-centered approach to learning and programs.

Meanwhile, although the average population target for each grade level is 250, only 122 kindergartners are enrolled for 2013-14. Board President Scott Tracy said he felt confident that number would grow as the new school year dawned, but that the issue deserves attention.

"Wendy has no vested interest in a 40% cap — that simply was a number calculated to engage in conversation," Tracy said, clarifying that there were currently only 65 permit applications for kindergarten next year, far below the 40% mark.

Parent Leslie Helbing said perhaps it's time to acknowledge a nationwide population decline and tailor high school offerings accordingly.

"The world is changing, and our community is changing," Helbing said. "And we're hanging on to a dream that we're going to have 250 kids in every [grade]. We can be great, and we can be smaller."

Former school board member Cindy Wilcox called the high school programs a vital part of the educational experience and suggested letting more kids from the outside in.

"Please, please bring in kids that keep those programs," she said. "I think we think we're doing a favor to all these families who want to get in. But it's our kids who are benefiting. It's about your kids — it's not about those permit kids."

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