Beneath the back-to-school smiles on the faces of local children, there are issues that are making local residents less than happy.
By Mary O’KEEFE
The 2015-16 school year has begun and although Crescenta Valley residents are still incredibly supportive of their schools, teachers, students and staff, there is a quiet rumbling of discontent that seems to be getting louder in the foothills. Issues range from earlier and earlier start dates for school to – yes – even seceding from the district. CV is taking a hard look at what is being said and who is being heard by the Glendale Unified School District.
“This is not about Sagebrush,” said Robbyn Battles, president of Crescenta Valley Town Council. Battles is referring to a survey titled Be Heard CV that is on the CVTC website. The questions are directed at the communication between CV residents, including Montrose, far north Glendale and the unincorporated area of Los Angeles County-La Crescenta/Montrose, and the school district.
The questions include how many years have you lived in this community? Survey-takers are asked to identify themselves as a student, parent, recent graduate, resident, grandparent or other and if the participant has children in the district. The questions then turn to what has been talked about lately at local community meetings, especially those meetings that ask for opinions on preferred traits for the new superintendent: Does GUSD listen to parents and residents of the foothills? The questions then turn to merging CV schools with a smaller district or creating an independent district.
At present there have been 136 respondents and of those the majority – 94 respondents – favor creating an independent district.
The Sagebrush comment from Battles concerns the GUSD and La Cañada School District’s discussions of a territory transfer. Sagebrush is the westernmost area of La Cañada and is part of the GUSD. Members of the La Cañada community began a grassroots effort to transfer the area from GUSD to LCUSD schools. This alone is not what inspired the recent survey and local sentiment; however, it may have been the last straw in an overall feeling of being the “stepchild” of the district, according to Battles.
“[District administration and the school board] don’t listen to us. They didn’t hear us on Sagebrush. [GUSD] said we are going to do this [transfer] and figure out what to do with [Mountain Avenue Elementary] in the next two years,” Battles said.
During meetings between then-Superintendent Richard Sheehan and the community, the suggestion of a magnet school open to the entire district concerned residents who were worried specifically about traffic and buses leading to the school, which is set in a small cul-de-sac.
The early meetings concerning Sagebrush were limited to the future of Mountain Avenue Elementary and did not include the entire CV community, which would be affected if and when the transfer were to occur.
“It would have been a done deal had we not stepped in,” Battles said.
The territory transfer is still in discussion with the district.
The feeling of not being heard has been shared at several of the community meetings conducted by McPherson and Jacobsen, the search group hired to find a new superintendent candidate. Sheehan took a new job with the Covina-Valley Unified School District in June.
“We have been referred to as ‘those people on the hill,’” said one resident.
Battles added that parents have talked to her about what CV parents are expected to pay out-of-pocket for their children attending public schools. She said that it appears the district assumes because the community has parents who volunteer and are involved in their schools they will pick up costs passed along to them.
“We are very different [in CV]. What I need to make clear is we are not saying this from an income standpoint; but because we have the ability for our parents to participate [our] need is different,” Battles said.
Battles added it is not about taking from other schools in the district but having CV’s needs and concerns discussed equally.
“There is an assumption that our community will fundraise and get what we need for our kids,” Battles said.
This is often the case, she said, citing the funds raised for CV High School’s new track and field about eight years ago.
Interim Superintendent Dr. Donald Empey said he was surprised at this reaction from the community. He is a longtime Crescenta Valley resident. He served with GUSD for 25 years under superintendents Burtis Taylor, Robert Sanchis and James Brown. He retired in 2001.
Empey called Battles to talk about residents’ concerns.
“I asked what specific things that can be done. She said [it is a] feeling of not being heard,” Empey said.
There was a suggestion of creating an advisory committee composed of CV community members.
Prior to his retirement, a member of the administration attended monthly meetings of the CVTC; that practice is no longer in place.
“[GUSD] has had a standing invitation to come to our meetings,” Battles said.
In the future, Be Heard CV will be a separate committee and discuss what to do to improve communication with the district, even if that means creating a new district.