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 students living in the west side of La Cañada known as the Sagebrush area to the LCUSD was mixed Tuesday night during the board’s first public discussion of the matter since a town hall meeting last month.

“At the end of the day, I think [the territory transfer is] the best move for all of us,” said Glendale school board member Greg Krikorian. “Far too many times, elected bodies bump heads and they end up putting dollars in legal pockets and law firms’ pockets and no one wins.”

His board colleague Christine Walters lauded La Cañada city leaders and school officials in both districts for creating a “democratic process” that has involved officials hearing input from residents at public meetings and entering into monthslong negotiations that has resulted, in part, to 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 added. “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, many of them from the Sagebrush area, spoke Tuesday night, the majority saying they are in favor of the transfer. But not every school board member appears confident the transfer is a good idea, although they may be voting on the proposal as soon as next month, according to Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan.

“The problem with me and Sagebrush is very basically this: 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 dollar a year parcel tax, plus or minus, that they didn’t get to vote upon,” said Glendale school board President Mary Boger, referring to the $450 Measure LC parcel tax approved by LCUSD voters in March. “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 School in La Crescenta that is currently attended by Sagebrush children, 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,” Gharpetian said. “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.”

Sagebrush resident Tom Smith, who renewed the decades long effort last year to fold his section of La Cañada Flintridge 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 parents worried over whether or not their children could still attend the school.

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

Glendale school board member Nayiri Nahabedian said an “overwhelming majority” of people support the transfer.

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

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

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

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

Former La Cañada school board member Scott Tracy said Tuesday’s meeting “was an important step for Glendale to come to its decision.”

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Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.

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