La Cañada school board meets over GUSD’s Sagebrush pitch

Members direct staff to seek further negotiations on Sagebrush transfer.

LA_Times_image_of_Sagebrush_by_Steve_Greenberg
La Canada Valley Sun
By: Sara Cardine
November 19, 2014

Still reeling from sticker shock after receiving a $23-million proposal from Glendale Unified for the transfer of Sagebrush students to La Cañada Unified, backers of the move are hoping for the best but planning for the worst.

That was the tenor Tuesday night at a meeting of the LCUSD Governing Board, where members discussed what they see as an untenable offer and shared their optimism that Glendale school officials may still be willing to talk turkey.

Board President Ellen Multari expressed her mystification at how the number on the negotiating table went from $7 million to $23 million.

“We’re so far apart right now we don’t know how to get back closer to a number that we felt we could handle, and we don’t understand what are all the terms that have caused the size of the ask to escalate so dramatically,” she said. “So our goal would to be get back to the table as soon as we could with Glendale to understand both those two points.”

Meanwhile, a group of Sagebrush homeowners — whose petitioning of the La Cañada Flintridge City Council and the school board last year inspired the most recent round of negotiations — is preparing to take their case to the county committee that would rule on the matter if a deal can’t be reached.

Tom Smith, the Sagebrush resident leading the citizens effort, said the group had met earlier that day with Allison Deegan, a business services coordinator with the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization, to learn more about the process and see what next steps should be taken.

Although they are pressing forward, the La Cañada residents said after the discussion they’re hopeful some sort of negotiated settlement might still be worked out between the two districts.

The board agreed.

“We still think this is a great idea,” board member Dan Jeffries said. “We want to see it go forward. We want to find a way to make this work out, but we are mindful of the fact that we have to watch what we’re doing in terms of our fiduciary duties.”

Smith, who shared his gratitude and support for the board in public comment, could not say for sure afterward how much time the citizens group would allow before taking matters into their own hands. But he did say he hopes they will be prepared to act by late January or February if talks break down.

“If Glendale can’t find a way to come off what seems to be a very difficult position, we may have no choice,” Smith said.

The board directed staff to seek whether Glendale school officials would be willing to sit back down at the negotiating table sometime in the near future. Board members expressed an interest in seeing whether a third-party mediator might be used to help both parties reach an amicable conclusion.

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