By Jason KUROSU
Tuesday night’s Glendale Unified School District Board of Education meeting continued the ongoing Sagebrush debate, as Mountain Avenue Elementary parents attended en masse to promote the proposed territory transfer, which would move a portion of students attending Mountain Avenue from the GUSD to the La Cañada Unified School District. The territory transfer would also affect Rosemont Middle School and Crescenta Valley High School.
“You, as the board, have a unique opportunity to architect a permanent and peaceful resolution to a conflict which has plagued our community and schools for nearly 50 years,” said Nick Karapetian, La Cañada resident and parent of two third graders at Mountain Avenue. “Along with others in the community, we will continue to fight for the right to unify the city with the school, for that is the right thing to do.”
Parents like Karapetian are seeking to reconcile situations in which their children are torn between school functions and activities from Glendale’s school district and other programs dictated by residency in La Cañada.
Arguments against the transfer have generally stemmed from a financial perspective, with some worried that the loss of students in the transfer would significantly affect Mountain Avenue, even perhaps to the point of shutting down the school.
Several parents in favor of the transfer spoke in order to shut down that notion.
“The idea that Mountain Avenue would have to be shuttered because it would lose its kids is absolutely impossible,” said Jennifer Kratz, a Mountain Avenue parent living in La Cañada.
Lea Dilbeck, mother of two Mountain Avenue students, said that the involved parent participation at Mountain Avenue was a testament to how the school would hold up and thrive despite a loss of students.
GUSD Chief Business and Financial Officer Eva Lueck presented a slideshow indicating the financial impacts of a transfer.
In it, Lueck indicated that parents who transfer would be relieved of current and future property tax obligations to GUSD starting April 2015, and would assume LCUSD property and parcel tax in December 2015. To make up for loss in tax money, LCUSD would pay GUSD $4.45 million over the next 13 years.
Should the transfer occur, the “phase-in” process would take place over a six year period. Students entering kindergarten, seventh grade and ninth grade in the following school year would be transferred to LCUSD.
Dr. Allison Deegan from the L.A. County Office of Education also made a presentation. Deegan spoke about what would happen if a petition was filed, including the long process from a series of official bodies of approving a petition and checking the feasibility of a transfer, should the petition be approved.
Members of the school board also weighed in, especially toward claims that the school board was prioritizing money over the wellbeing of students.
Christine Walters admitted that she initially had an emotional response to parents wanting to leave GUSD. “At first, I felt like ‘Are our schools not good enough for you?’”
But Walters also said that the discourse over the Sagebrush situation was a “fantastic example of the democratic process in action. We’ve been able to engage in a civil dialogue and explore all the different issues.”
Walters was also in support of avoiding litigation, which she said had proved previously to be “ugly, long, expensive and fruitless in the end.”
Walters was unhappy about the depiction of the school district from some parents.
“I get frustrated when people accuse us of only looking at the money. Of course we’re looking at the money because that’s how we fund an excellent education.”
Greg Krikorian praised how the districts have tried to work together, saying that the districts have “a great working relationship.”
“Far too many times, elected bodies bump heads and they don’t roll up their sleeves and it ends up with dollars in legal pockets and no one wins. Sometimes the cost of conflict is good men and women coming together to make a mature decision that looks at the greater good for the whole community and moves on.”
Mary Boger took issue with the notion that children cannot maintain consistent friendships when their school and extracurricular activities place them regularly with other kids from two different school districts.
“I’m baffled at the idea that if your children don’t go to the same schools that they can’t be friends,” said Boger, who noted her son’s positive AYSO experiences, where he was able to meet children he didn’t know from other schools.
Boger also did not like the notion of imposing taxes upon unwilling parents.
“My problem with Sagebrush is this. You’re asking me to tell a whole group of people that their property taxes are going to go up and they’re going to pay a $400 a year parcel tax that they didn’t get to vote upon.”
Boger said that if it could be proven that the majority of parents in the Sagebrush region were in favor of the transfer, with full knowledge of the tax implications, that she could accept it.
The territory transfer will be discussed further at the May 6 GUSD Board meeting.