Demystifying Sagebrush Debate


The Sagebrush debate continued at Tuesday’s Glendale Unified School District board of education meeting. Sagebrush is the far western portion of La Cañada Flintridge whose students attend GUSD schools. Some La Cañada residents have been working to get Sagebrush area students permanently transferred to La Cañada Unified School District.

There are many factors that are being discussed regarding the issue; however, during Tuesday’s meeting there was made mention of how complicated bonds and ADA (Average Daily Attendance) are to the general public.

Here is some information to clarify these issues:

In order to raise capital, municipalities like school districts often issue bonds. These bonds help finance specific projects, mostly pertaining to the infrastructure of the facility like remodeling or constructing new buildings, or purchasing or upgrading technology. Bond measures are a way for the agency, like a school district, to borrow money over time. Bonds have been compared to a mortgage for a school district. The district offers the bond measure to voters and, if approved, will sell the bond to investors with the promise to pay back with interest. The payments are made with a portion of the property tax money designated for the bond measure.

For about the last 40 years, this is one of the ways districts have been able to raise funds. The California State Supreme Court ruled that the differences in school funding due to wealth differences in districts violated the state constitution. A per-pupil entitlement financed by property tax revenue and state aid was put into place. The Average Daily Attendance, (ADA) allots a certain amount of funding for “students in the chairs” to each district.

In 1978, voters passed Proposition 13 that capped property taxes and limited property tax increases for each property owner. So even if the district grew, revenue from property taxes did not increase by very much. This left the bond measure or parcel tax as about the only two ways school districts can now raise infrastructure funding.

In 1997, voters in the GUSD area approved the Measure K bond. This allowed them to improve schools throughout the district, including Crescenta Valley High School. Then in 2011, voters approved the $270 million Measure S bond. This was to help more with technology than remodeling. Measure S has paid for solar panels at several of the schools. The original promise to voters made by district supporters of Measure S was the property tax rate would stay at $46 per $100,000 of the property’s assessed value. Measure S piggybacked, so to speak, onto Measure K, keeping the financial support for the district.

The voters seemed to understand what both Measures meant to the district since in 1997 over 74% of voters said yes to Measure K and in 2011 over 69% of the voters approved Measure S. This is despite an increase from $46 to $60 per $100,000 assessed value for Measure S since issues in the state required the bond measure to increase.

The La Cañada Unified School District chose to ask voters in its district for a parcel tax to help support their schools. In March 2014, La Cañada Flintridge voters, excluding Sagebrush residents, voted to approve a parcel tax that, like Measures K and S, would in a way piggyback onto an existing parcel tax. Residents already paying $150 per parcel would see an increase of $300, a total of $450 per parcel. This funding is slated to help with upgrades and repairs to the schools and to maintain programs.

The Board of Equalization defines a parcel as “an area of land in one ownership and one general use.” There may be multiple parcels out of a single property.

The residents of La Cañada Flintridge voted to accept the parcel tax by over 68%.

If the transfer were to be approved by GUSD, several changes would take place. La Cañada Sagebrush residents would begin to pay the parcel tax and no longer pay for Measure S. The bond money and the ADA loss is part of what is being negotiated between the two districts.