Sagebrush Citizens’ Group to Petition County

La Cañada Flintridge Outlook
December 10, 2015
by Mirjam Swanson

Rajiv Dalal said he hopes not to have to host another significant Sagebrush territory transfer meeting at his charming Tudor home in western La Cañada Flintridge.

Not that the holiday-themed Unite LCF event Dalal and his wife, Divya, hosted Saturday wasn’t a success. Close to 50 attendees filled a large room recently to hear Tom Smith, chair of the citizens’ committee, tell those gathered it was time to begin a petition push to transfer the Sagebrush area in westernmost LCF from Glendale Unified to the La Cañada Unified School District.

Smith said that after more than two years of discussions between districts, it doesn’t appear they’re close to a resolution. It’s time, he said, for citizens to submit a petition that will force the L.A. County Committee on School District Organization to make a decision about which school district will serve the students in the westernmost 385 acres of LCF.

“While those discussions aren’t dead, I see very little evidence that something is going to come out of this negotiation,” Smith said. “So here we are, two years down the road … and they’re just not able to bridge the gap. It’s time for us to take the lead on this.”

IMG_1881La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board member Ellen Multari said the district supports the move.

“He told us, ‘We’re going to get started,’” Multari said. “And we said, ‘We think that’s the right thing to do because we can’t promise you a desired outcome at the negotiating table.’”

Smith also received enthusiastic support from Saturday’s attendees, many of whom promised to help collect signatures, and from the event’s host, who hoped to see a resolution to the five-decades-long debate.

“This is the second one of these I’ve hosted,” Dalal said. “And, gosh, I hope there’s not a third one. It’s almost like the Berlin Wall was built in the city. Glendale will say it’s a secessionist movement, but it’s really that we’re being held captive.”

The efforts to transfer the territory between districts date back to the 1970s, and include a contentious battle in the 1990s that lasted about a decade and wound up before the State Board of Education.

Sagebrush resident Pat Anderson, the CEO and president of the LCF Chamber of Commerce, has been involved in each attempt. She said this time it feels different.

There is unprecedented public support from both the LCUSD and the city of LCF, both of which, along with GUSD, chipped in $5,000 apiece to help pay for the Sacramento-based Capitol Advisors Group to help find a solution after talks stalled in November 2014.

LCUSD Superintendent Wendy Sinnette stated she, Multari and Mark Evans, the district’s chief business and operations officer, met with some of their GUSD counterparts and consultants on Dec. 1 to review and discuss mitigation strategies prepared by the Capitol Advisors firm.

The consultants now are adjusting the document for further review, but Multari said she doesn’t anticipate the sides moving significantly closer.

“We went over the toolbox of options,” she said. “A lot of it was identified before, but this is a bit more extensive. … But the reality is we still remain wide apart and it would seem the likelihood that we’re going to reach a settlement is hampered by the numbers.”

Last November, GUSD requested as much as $23 million over a 12-year phase-in in exchange for losing potentially hundreds of students, and with them the attendance-based funding they bring in. But LCUSD flatly declined that deal, saying it wouldn’t be financially feasible. The county also informed the districts that phase-in plan couldn’t legally work.

Multari said no phase-in would be permitted, whether the districts agree to shift the school boundaries or the county orders it.

“It puts us in a difficult situation,” Multari said. “Our whole strategy to make it manageable was the phase-in over a period of time so neither district would experience a sudden influx or a big loss.”

Still, she said, “philosophically, we’re very behind the idea.”

LCUSD reprioritized its permitting prioritization before this school year, which led to a notable increase of Sagebrush families. Sixty-two permits were issued to them, bringing the total of Sagebrush students in the district to 72, Multari said.

GUSD estimated the total number of students living in the area at about 353. Multari said she expects some of them would apply to stay at their current schools rather than switching districts.

Smith said Unite LCF aims to submit a petition by the end of January, which must be signed by at least 403 of the 1,610 (25%) registered voters in the Sagebrush area. Residents would, in the event of a boundary change, begin paying the $450-per-year parcel tax that supports LCUSD.

“I don’t think we’re going to have any trouble,” Smith said, adding that if all goes according to plan, the issue could come before the County Committee of School Organization by September. If that committee rules by the end of 2016, Multari said, the change could be in place for the 2017-18 school year.

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photos: UniteLCF!