By Jason KUROSU
The Glendale Unified School District board of education voted Tuesday night to approve a proposal for a territory transfer for students living in the Sagebrush area, which, if agreed upon by the La Cañada Unified School District governing board, would begin a six-year transition period of a number of GUSD students into La Cañada’s system.
GUSD’s proposal makes a number of requests of La Cañada’s school district, including reimbursement for the loss of students to LCUSD, the loss of money from Sagebrush taxpayers to pay for Measure K and Measure S bonds and a sharing of special education costs. The Pickens Canyon Lot area, which includes a bridge owned by GUSD and is a regular drop off/pick up area for Mountain Avenue parents, would remain under GUSD ownership.
GUSD officials said in a presentation that the loss of students to La Cañada could, in a “worst case scenario,” contribute to a loss of $16 million in ADA (Average Daily Attendance) money, while assuming a 3% increase in state funding.
“Should 60 students move from the Sagebrush area to La Cañada, that would be the equivalent of $215,850 in year one,” said GUSD Chief Financial and Business Officer Eva Lueck to illustrate their position. Lueck said the money requested to pay back bonds would not include $70 million issued this summer for Measure S bonds.
Opponents to GUSD’s proposal contend that the situation
GUSD is facing is not as dire as the board is presenting. Several Sagebrush residents attended GUSD’s meeting. Nick Karapetian, who has twins attending Mountain Avenue Elementary, emphasized “perspective” when viewing the issue, arguing that GUSD has spent too much time and effort focusing on 1% of their overall student population.
“This district, which is a wonderful district, has 27,000 students to educate and $250 million to deal with annually. We make up maybe $3 million if all the kids left,” said Karapetian. “If the board and the public don’t realize the amount of scrutiny this board has put on 1% over the last 14 months versus what it needs to also address in 99% of the budget and what it does for its students, then they’ve been misled.”
Karapetian also circulated a letter to the members of the GUSD board of education prior to the meeting requesting that the GUSD board hold off on a vote regarding Sagebrush.
The letter states, “This issue impacts less than 2% of its nearly $250 million annual budget, but has eaten up countless hours of GUSD board and staff time, has required families to attend endless meetings where they are given inconsistent and ever-changing information, and has now culminated with a proposal to vote on a unilateral offer that GUSD likely knows is not a proposal LCUSD can agree with.”
A letter from LCUSD Superintendent Wendy Sinnette to the La Cañada Valley Sun described a negotiated agreement between the two school districts as “not presently achievable.”
“This new position from GUSD raises the total cost to LCUSD of the transfer agreement from approximately $7 million to nearly $17 million. This dramatic increase in the price of the transfer has led LCUSD to the conclusion that it needs to step aside with regard to any future financial settlement discussions.”
GUSD Superintendent Richard Sheehan said he was “disappointed” by the news, but said, “We still have a very good working relationship with La Cañada and plan on maintaining it as we continue to move through this; but as a district, we need to continue our process.”
The proposal will be presented to the La Cañada Unified School District governing board on Nov. 10.
GUSD Board Vice President Christine Walters reiterated the district’s position that GUSD would feel a significant financial impact from students transferring to LCUSD.
“Unfortunately that is how school districts are funded in the state of California. We’re paid for kids,” said Walters. “When we shift our enrollment, it has significant impacts on our budget. I recognize it may seem like a relatively small amount of our budget but when we are running at a deficit like we have been for many years, every million dollars counts.”
GUSD board President Greg Krikorian said, “We [would] love to help the families and residents of Sagebrush to have their wish and maybe go to La Cañada Unified, but [what] we’re defining now protects us and keeps our tax dollars whole. We still have a responsibility to our residents. We’re setting a parameter for what protects our district. This keeps our district financially responsible and solvent.”
The GUSD board unanimously approved the proposal. The Sagebrush area contains students currently attending Mountain Avenue Elementary, Rosemont Middle and Crescenta Valley High School.
In order for the territory transfer to be finalized, the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization would need to approve any agreement between GUSD and LCUSD.