Op-Ed: Dousing some burning Sagebrush questions

By Scott Tracy
Glendale News Press/La Canada Valley Sun
November 3, 2014

In response to the column that ran Nov. 1, “Start the Presses: A case of Sagebrush Burning” by Dan Evans, please consider the following:

Property values

In 1992, the L.A. County Committee on School District Organization affirmed that “the proposed organization is not primarily designed to result in a significant increase in property values causing financial advantage to [Sagebrush] property owners.”

At that time, county committee staff concluded that while “it is possible that some registered voters who signed the petition may have been influenced by this possibility, it does not appear that the petition was primarily designed for this purpose.”

The Glendale Unified School District appealed to the county committee stating that a “financial gain which averages 22% per household is presumptively a primary motivation.” In response, the La Cañada petitioners cited the difference in home prices between the two comparison areas as being due to large lot sizes, which produced misleading price-per-foot comparisons. The county committee denied GUSD’s appeal.

GUSD appealed to the California State Board of Education. The state board’s staff findings: “There is no evidence of any intent to transfer territory to increase property values.”

GUSD has never prevailed on this issue and there is no reason to believe they would do so today.

LCUSD’s parcel tax

Evans ignored the senior exemption and the contiguous parcel exemption in his calculations. More importantly, La Cañada Unified School District is legally restricted on how its parcel tax revenues can be allocated; payments to GUSD would be disallowed.

GUSD’s lost revenue

LCUSD is revenue neutral regarding the territory transfer. LCUSD schools are at capacity and existing permit students cannot be displaced. Therefore, LCUSD would enroll one less permit student with each transferred student from Sagebrush. LCUSD would receive no additional state revenue from the transfer of Sagebrush students as its enrollment wouldn’t increase.

In 2013, both districts engaged a leading consultant to determine the percentage of lost revenue to GUSD for transferred students. The consultant concluded that GUSD would lose 20% (not 50%) of its state revenues per transferred student after factoring in lower costs for educating students. Basically, fewer students mean fewer teachers and staff.

Finally, there is a major disconnect between GUSD’s proposed $10-million-plus reimbursement for transferred students versus zero reimbursement if GUSD’s preferred solution of a permanent open-enrollment agreement were to be implemented.

Bonds

GUSD has proposed $6.8 million of property tax payments over 26 years. Educational code is clear on this issue. If no “property” changes hands, no allocation of bonds occurs. Education code is definitive — without a negotiated agreement, there would be zero property tax payments from LCUSD taxpayers to GUSD since GUSD is retaining ownership of the Ocean View lot.

There are many reasons for GUSD to pursue a negotiated agreement including 1) avoiding significant legal expenses, staff time and potential litigation; 2) establishing a mutually beneficial student phase-in process; 3) considering a longer-term “permissive agreement” allowing family choice of school districts; 4) receiving some negotiated allocation of bond payments; 5) receiving some negotiated reimbursement for lost revenue related to transferred students; 6) retaining ownership of its Ocean View lot; and 7) eliminating the risk of uncertain outcomes from the County Committee process.

Rhetoric aside, if both districts want a negotiated agreement, it is imperative that the parties return to the negotiating table, meet face-to-face and finalize a deal.


SCOTT TRACY is a former member and president of the La Cañada Unified School District.

To read the Op-Ed, click here.

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