By Mary O’KEEFE
The Glendale Unified School District Board of Education heard on Tuesday from concerned residents and parents about the possible territory transfer of the far western area of La Cañada Flintridge from GUSD schools to La Cañada Unified School District.
The discussion of the transfer of the “Sagebrush” area has been in play for quite some time. The resolution requesting the transfer was presented by Unite La Cañada in June 2013 to the city of La Cañada Flintridge, which the city approved. The resolution was then presented to the LCUSD Governing Board, which also approved.
Since the beginning, those in favor of the transfer in La Cañada Flintridge have been organized and spoke as a united voice; Unite La Cañada is the grassroots effort behind the territory transfer.
GUSD administrators and school board members have discussed the transfer at several board meetings and have had community meetings at Mountain Avenue Elementary and Crescenta Valley High School; however, as an agreement between the districts appears to be in its final stages and a vote draws near, Crescenta Valley residents, including officials from the CV Chamber of Commerce and CV Town Council, are becoming more concerned about the transfer and how it will affect the children of Crescenta Valley.
At issue is the direct effect on Mountain Avenue Elementary school, Rosemont Middle School and CVHS. The districts estimate there will be a loss of about 30 students per year, but the underlying issue is as much about the students as it is about the loss of revenue from the students in the seats, tax/bond revenue and the new financial structure of California schools.
Those living in the Sagebrush area – west of Rosebank Drive – are in the City of La Cañada but attend GUSD schools. A point made by La Cañada residents regarding this issue concerned students living a dual life, one where they are attending GUSD schools, yet are La Cañada residents and do not get the full benefit of either city’s opportunities. For example, if a girl lives in the Sagebrush area she cannot be considered for the Tournament of Roses court, even though La Cañada residents who attend LCHS area are allowed.
At Tuesday’s meeting, CVTC President Robbyn Battles shared an online survey that had been distributed in the area that would be affected by the transfer.
“This is not an scientific survey,” she explained.
The questions were created by local parents and the time period was from when those questions were first posted on the CVTC website at 3 p.m. on Saturday to Monday at 1 p.m. One-hundred-ninety-two people responded not only to the questions but added comments, Battles said.
The results overwhelmingly asked that the process be slowed down to get more information on the transfer and to learn what would happen to Mountain Avenue if the transfer were approved.
GUSD has hired True North Research to create and distribute a survey for the Sagebrush area residents. Timothy McLarney spoke to the school board on Tuesday about the process, which he said would go quickly.
Questions will first be mailed via U.S. Postal Service to residents. There will be follow-up both online and via phone calls. The results will then be analyzed and information gathered on specific items, including a $450 parcel tax that would be required for Sagebrush residents once the agreement and transfer was approved. Another survey sharing that information will go out and those responses will be analyzed.
McLarney said the results would be completed by May 20.
“I feel we need to be very careful about making this decision,” said GUSD President Mary Boger, echoing the point made by GUSD board member Dr. Armina Gharpetian who also suggested acting cautiously before making a decision.
The speakers from CV at Tuesday’s meeting were concerned about the apparent rush to make a decision without a plan being in place for the elementary school or the nearby Ocean View Park that is used by the school.
“I appreciate that La Cañada wants to have the Sagebrush area and the local control funding formula will not favor [their district] and will impact them greatly; however, as this issue has arisen in the past and has always been adjudicated in Glendale’s favor I don’t feel any pressure to move [quickly] on La Cañada’s behalf,” Boger added.
Ocean View Park is a small park owned, at present, by GUSD and is used by Mountain Avenue Elementary in two distinct ways: one as a safe, secondary drop-off area and also as a mini-field trip area for Mountain Avenue students, like many other schools in the area that use nearby parks. The kids use it for events like Gold Rush Days and the school’s Girl Scout troops have often used it as a meeting place.
The board spoke on the issue of the park, and members assured the audience that this would be part of the negotiation. The prior arrangement was to allow the school access to the park during the six-year proposed transition from GUSD to LCUSD if approved.
“I thought the [GUSD] board was clear there [would be] an agreement that access to the bridge would stay intact,” said Tom Smith of Unite La Cañada.
The proposal thus far would have LCUSD pay $4.45 million over 13 years to the GUSD, which would equal the property tax lost from a Sagebrush transfer.
Sagebrush territorial transfer is not a new issue. In the past, after arbitration, GUSD has been able to retain the area; however, GUSD board member and clerk Christine Walters voiced her concern about the possibility of losing the battle, if it goes that route.
Eventually the Los Angeles County Committee on School Districts will review the transfer request. That ruling can then be appealed by either party. Boger feels GUSD has a strong case for Mountain Avenue Elementary to remain in the district. Mountain Avenue is a high performing school that is within walking distance of the Sagebrush area. Its 2012 Academic Performance Index rating was 952; Palm Crest Elementary, the elementary school closest to Sagebrush, was 960 for that same year. The state’s goal is 800.
Part of the agreement offered by GUSD in the past was instituting open enrollment, thereby allowing those students who wish to transfer to LCUSD to be allowed to do so. This year, 10 requests for district transfers from GUSD to LCUSD from residents of the Sagebrush were received and approved by Glendale. Last year, there were eight requests, five of which were approved – three did not qualify per the board policy.
On the LCUSD website, an Inter District Permit is available. “La Cañada Unified School District will be considering inter district permits for the 2014-2015 school year for residents of the City of La Cañada whose school district of residence is Glendale Unified School District (area known as Sagebrush).”
The applications were accepted from March 11 to April 30.
Boger and Battles stated that open enrollment allows students in the Sagebrush area to leave Glendale schools for La Cañada if they wish, but does not mandate it as would happen with a territory transfer.
Smith said the permit system is a lottery-type system and would only be on a limited basis and that is a concern for parents.
Smith said he was happy with the tone of the discussion and that CV residents are asking questions.
“We don’t want to lose the momentum [of the process], but there is a lot of great discussion,” he said.
Battles, too, said the discussion is important and does not feel this is a “them vs. us” issue between CV/GUSD and La Cañada, but wants clarity on what the final deal will be if the transfer is approved and how it all affects the children, which is and should be the first concern, she said.
Caught in the middle of the territory transfer issue are the parents and students of Mountain Avenue Elementary. Michele Cheney lives in the Montrose area of Ocean View Boulevard. She and her family moved to the area because of Mountain Avenue Elementary.
She has five children, three at Mountain Avenue and two waiting to go to the elementary school.
“The [school] has a community feeling,” she said. “The kids go to school with kids who live on the same street [Ocean View Boulevard].”
Cheney graduated from CV High School and is looking forward to her children going to Rosemont Middle School and CVHS with friends they made at Mountain Avenue.
“Everyone I talk to [at the school] is concerned about what will happen to the school after the fact. I think they feel this would have a negative impact on the school,” Cheney said.
She said she feels GUSD is not communicating with the parents about what will happen to the elementary school. She is concerned about foreign language immersion programs being put in place without a discussion first with parents.
“There is a disconnect with the district and I am concerned they will do something behind our backs, “she said.
It is to this issue, also mentioned at Tuesday’s meeting, that Superintendent Richard Sheehan and several board members told the audience there would be more discussion and decisions had not been made yet.
Most school board members, and Sheehan, stressed caution; however, GUSD Vice President Greg Krikorian voiced his apparent approval stating the transfer makes the most sense for both districts.
This was a surprise to Battles who came to the meeting hoping the board would understand the needs and concerns of the Crescenta Valley.
“The CVTC will continue to oppose the territory transfer until better terms are negotiated on behalf of our community, residents and parents. An example of this would be the small pocket park on Ocean View currently owned by GUSD. This should not be sold as part of the transfer [because] many school events as well as pick-up and drop-off occur there and it is a vital emergency access,” said Battles. “In addition, it is disappointing to hear one of our school board members state this is a good thing for our district. Have they forgotten what district they represent?”