By Mary O’KEEFE
On May 6, the Glendale Unified School District Board of Education will once again listen to comments and discuss the Sagebrush transfer.
Sagebrush is the westernmost region of the city of La Cañada Flintridge, which falls within the GUSD district. The discussion at both the La Cañada Unified School District and GUSD board meetings, along with community forums, has been about transferring the students in the Sagebrush area to LCUSD schools. This would initially affect Mountain Avenue Elementary and ultimately affect Rosemont Middle School and Crescenta Valley High School enrollment.
The topic of Sagebrush is not new; in fact, there have been multiple failed petitions dating as far back as 40 years and three legislative resolutions seeking transfer.
“Each successive effort seeking to transfer Sagebrush from GUSD to LCUSD has become more contentious, rancorous and expensive, which has negatively impacted the working relationship between the two neighboring school districts. Furthermore, GUSD in particular has been faced with extensive legal costs and staff time necessary to respond to the ongoing challenges,” according to the LCUSD school board.
In the past, the mention of transfer brought out attorneys on both sides, costing each district millions of dollars. This time both districts appear to be open to discussing the possibilities of reaching a mutual agreement that addresses both parties interested, stated Ellen Multari, LCUSD president, in an email.
The decision to transfer, as both district boards are quick to point out, has not been made. However, the discussion appears to be covering all aspects of the transfer as if it were a certain possibility.
“If the Sagebrush territory were to be transferred to LCUSD, Sagebrush property owners would be relieved of all current and future property tax obligations to GUSD, Measures K and S, and instead would pay property and parcel taxes to LCUSD at the same rate as all other La Cañada Flintridge property owners,” Multari said.
What that means for GUSD is a loss of about 2% of GUSD’s annual property tax receipts, said Eva Lueck, chief business and financial officer at GUSD.
There is a tax rate difference between La Cañada and Glendale. The 2015/16 tax rate for La Cañada properties is about $61 per $100,000 assessed value; Glendale’s rate for that same time period is about $46 per $100,000 of assessed value.
If the transfer occurs, GUSD will lose those tax dollars from Sagebrush. LCUSD has agreed to pay GUSD about $4.45 million over the next 13 years to match the amount of property tax lost. The La Cañada district would make annual payments to the Glendale district of about $225,000 in 2015-16 and that would increase by 4.75% annually for 13 years.
If the transfer is approved the effects will be “phased-in.” That means for a few years students living in the Sagebrush area in pre-determined grades would be given a choice of attending Glendale or La Cañada schools. Students and parents would begin the phase-in as soon as this coming school year.
In both Mountain Avenue Elementary and Rosemont Middle schools, a student population that could be affected is about 76 students, according to GUSD.
Lueck said it doesn’t appear that Mountain Avenue teacher staff would be affected by the transfer.
A plan for Mountain Avenue, though, has not been mapped out by GUSD. At last week’s Crescenta Valley Town Council meeting, Laura Olhasso, La Cañada Flintridge councilmember, spoke on the subject of the transfer. Residents were concerned about the impact on Mountain Avenue and they did not feel they had heard a clear plan as to what would happen to the school if the transfer was approved.
In particular, there was a concern for the future of the small park near Mountain Avenue. Ocean View Park is accessed via Ocean View Boulevard in the Sagebrush area and students use a bridge leading from the school to the park.
“As part of the territory transfer between GUSD and LCUSD, the GUSD-owned lot located in Sagebrush used primarily for drop-off /pick-up would be conveyed to LCUSD. As part of the support from the city of La Cañada Flintridge, it is anticipated that this lot would be transferred to the city at fair market value. Access to the pedestrian bridge over Pickens Canyon would continue throughout the six-year phase-in period at a minimum,” Multari stated.
However, that offer can be adjusted as the final decision approaches.
“That can always be worked out in the final agreement,” Lueck said.
And that is a point that community members and the CVTC discussed at the recent meeting. There is still time to weigh in on the issue despite that at the recent GUSD board meeting several members appeared to have already made up their minds.
“It was very disappointing to hear [some] board members already casting their vote in favor of this transfer when the community has been told they will continue to hear comments through the end of April or mid May,” said Robbyn Battles who attended the April 15 GUSD meeting. “There is absolutely no plan for Mountain Avenue Elementary, yet a six-year plan can be rolled out for La Cañada. Our community and parents deserve a six-year plan as well and they should demand more than one year of conversation.”
Battles is also the president of the CV Town Council.
Battles added that the overwhelming consensus is that Mountain Avenue is a “great school.”
The transfer would affect about 151 Sagebrush students attending Mountain Avenue.
“The focus should be kept on keeping our children united. CV Town Council does not support the transfer. We feel it will have a negative impact on the school, the community, and especially the residents near Mountain Avenue Elementary. We also have safety concerns should we lose access across the bridge connecting Mountain across Pickens Canyon, which could be terminated after six years,” she said.
Recent forums had many Sagebrush and La Cañada residents speak in favor of the transfer.
The district, according to Lueck, has yet to receive many letters or comments negative to the transfer. GUSD encourages community members to come to the May 6 school board meeting and share their opinions.
Residents can also email GUSD Superintendent Richard Sheehan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The May 6 GUSD meeting is at the district office at 223 N. Jackson Street in Glendale. Meetings begin normally at 5 p.m. An agenda will be available on May 2 at www.gusd.net.