Mountain Avenue School

Mountain Avenue School in La Crescenta, pictured on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, is one of the schools that falls into the Sagebrush territory. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer / March 12, 2014)

Reaction from Glendale school board members on transferring the Sagebrush territory to La Cañada Unified was mixed Tuesday night during the board’s first public discussion of the issue since 350 people attended a town-hall meeting last month and most of the speakers supported the move.

“At the end of the day, I think it’s the best move for all of us,” said school board member Greg Krikorian. “Far too many times, elected bodies bump heads.”

Board member Christine Walters lauded La Cañada city officials as well as school officials in both districts for creating a “democratic process” that has involved hearing input from residents at public meetings and entering into monthslong negotiations that has resulted, in part, in a six-year phase-in plan.

“To me, this is the model for how problems need to be solved,” Walters said, adding that the last time the issue surfaced between the two districts, it resulted in an “ugly” and “expensive” legal battle.

“It was fruitless in the end,” she said. “Having attorneys beating each other up over this is something I’m not interested in... I will be voting for the transfer. I have a lot of confidence that this is the right thing to do.”

Fifteen residents spoke Tuesday night, the majority were in favor of the transfer.

But not every school board member was confident in approving the transfer just yet.

“The problem with me and Sagebrush is very basically this,” said school board President Mary Boger. “You’re asking me to tell a whole group of people that their property taxes are going to go up and they’re going to pay a $400-a-year parcel tax, plus or minus, that they didn’t get to vote upon. I will be happy to say, ‘au revoir,’ to Sagebrush when I have had the opportunity to be presented with evidence that the majority of the registered voters of the Sagebrush territory are willing to assume that taxation.”

School board member Armina Gharpetian questioned the transfer’s effect on Mountain Avenue Elementary, wondering how it would cope with a potential enrollment dip.

“I would like to see — before we make any decisions — more of a plan for our schools, because that’s a priority to me,” Gharpetian said, and wondered how Glendale Unified would spend the millions of dollars La Cañada officials have proposed giving the district under negotiated terms of the transfer.

“At this point, I have not made up my mind. I still have questions... and to be honest with you, I think more of the La Crescenta families are not coming forward and expressing their views because they think this is a done deal and it’s not a done deal,” she said.

Tom Smith, who renewed the decadelong effort last year to fold Sagebrush into La Cañada Unified and was quick to gain support from La Cañada school and city officials alike, said he was proud of the progress both districts have made on the issue.

“I think when I first reinitiated this campaign to get this territory transfer completed, ‘assault’ is probably not too strong of a word by some of the people that came and expressed some of their concerns to me,” he said, adding that a lot of them were Mountain Avenue Elementary parents concerned over whether their students could still attend the school.

Glendale school officials have said they would allow parents to send their children to either district.

School board member Nayiri Nahabedian acknowledged that an “overwhelming majority” of people support the transfer.

“I’m taking that into consideration as well,” Nahabedian said. She added that should the transfer occur, she is confident that Glendale Unified would maintain Mountain Avenue as a successful school.

The Sagebrush issue will go before the Glendale school board again for discussion on May 6, said Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan.

If both districts support the transfer, school officials would need to file a request with the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization, beginning a process in which county officials would review the transfer and potentially grant it.

If granted, the transfer could become official in July 2015, said Allison Deegan, a regionalized business services coordinator with the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

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Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.

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