Town hall for Sagebrush territory transfer

Jerry Berkman, who lives in the Sagebrush area of La Canada Flintridge, speaks at the microphone for public question and comment at Crescenta Valley High School where school district officials from Glendale and La Cañada responded to questions from the community about the Sagebrush area of La Canada Flintridge that is served by the Glendale Unified School District on Tuesday, March 25, 2014. (Tim Berger / Staff Photographer / March 25, 2014)

The majority of about 40 people who spoke at a town hall meeting Tuesday night favored a potential plan to transfer La Cañada's Sagebrush territory from Glendale Unified to the La Cañada's school district.

Hundreds of people filled the seats at Crescenta Valley High School's auditorium for an open meeting Tuesday night, invited by officials from both districts to offer their opinions and ask questions of Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan and La Cañada Supt. Wendy Sinette.

Mountain Avenue parent Ryann Jorban wondered what would happen to that school's students if the Sagebrush students leave the school for Palm Crest Elementary.

"I'd like to know how this benefits the kids being left behind," she said, to which Sheehan said the school would likely absorb students who would otherwise attend Monte Vista Elementary.

One potential plan involves transferring Sagebrush students to La Cañada schools step-by-step over a six-year period. However, students would be permitted to keep attending Glendale schools if they wished.

The majority of speakers embraced the plan to transfer the territory Tuesday night, with many expressing their gratitude to both districts for working with one another on the issue.

"I think you guys have done a remarkable job," said Sagebrush resident Rudy Stevenson. "I think it's fair on both sides," he added, and the crowd erupted with applause.

Sagebrush father Craig Baker spoke about attending sporting events with his children and not knowing the La Cañada Unified parents.

"It is very clear — the parents who know each other in the school district," Baker said, adding, "There really is a difference in this two-tiered community aspect."

Sagebrush resident Harriet Hammons supported the transfer as well.

"I think we need to work together and continue on," she said.

The portion of La Cañada known as Sagebrush consists of nearly 900 parcels and has an overall assessed value of about $500 million. The area has historically been served by Glendale Unified, but for decades, residents have fought and failed to transfer the area to La Cañada Unified. The latest attempt was sparked in 2013 by Sagebrush resident Tom Smith, who does not have children in either district.

Past attempts have embroiled the two school districts in contentious battles over the territory. This time around, La Cañada school and city officials quickly backed the transfer, and Glendale school officials began talks about the ramifications a transfer could have on its district.

Discussions by school officials on both sides since then led to Tuesday's town hall meeting for officials to hear from Sagebrush residents whose children would be impacted by the potential change.

Sinette said the goal of her district in collaboration with Glendale, was two-fold, meant to "maintain a relationship between the two districts and to focus on kids and families."

Sheehan said the Glendale school board could vote on the matter as soon as May after holding public discussions over it in the upcoming weeks.

"This whole meeting was put [in place] so they could hear from the residents...The decisions we make are kid-centric and we want to make sure we're doing what's right for our students," he said.

If the transfer occurs, students would begin to attend La Cañada schools in July 2015. Within the same year, Sagebrush property owners may also be required to pay a $450 annual parcel tax, but be relieved of paying into the Measure K and Measure S bonds.

Another potential component of the transfer plan could entail La Cañada Unified paying Glendale Unified $4.45 million over the span of 13 years to assist Glendale with funds they would have collected through property taxes from Sagebrush residents.

This and many other details, however, still need to be worked out.

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Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.

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