Sagebrush map

Sagebrush map (Steve Greenberg / Times Community News / February 15, 2014)

After decades of contention over whether Glendale or La Cañada Unified School District should have stewardship of children living in La Cañada’s westernmost territory, known as “Sagebrush,” school officials are closer than ever to negotiating a deal.

Superintendents from both districts answered residents’ questions in a March 25 town hall forum about a proposed territory transfer to La Cañada Unified and the impact it would have on families and school sites.

“There are a lot of deep roots, and I want to say that’s at the core of what we’re doing working together,” La Cañada Unified Supt. Wendy Sinnette said in her opening remarks at the event, held at Crescenta Valley High School.

A list of “Frequently Asked Questions,” elucidating key points of negotiations thus far, was released before the forum. According to the nine-page document, LCUSD has offered to pay Glendale Unified $4.45 million over the next 13 years, in addition to another $2 million over six years, to compensate for the loss of taxpayers and an estimated 260 students.

Nothing is official yet — GUSD will publicly discuss the terms before a board vote that could come in May. But the figures hint at what consolidation of La Cañada residents into one district could mean for La Cañada Unified.

“LCUSD will wait for their vote and not make projections regarding outcome, although we felt the town hall was extremely positive,” said former Board President Scott Tracy, who’s been involved in discussions since the Unite LCF! Citizens group petitioned City Council and the school board last summer to write resolutions kick-starting the process.

The FAQ document, available at www.lcusd.net, states that a six-year phase-in of students could begin on a voluntary basis this fall, though an official transfer could not be formalized until July 1, 2015.

Sagebrush students entering kindergarten or transitional kindergarten, seventh or ninth grades could opt to enroll in LCUSD this fall. Those same grades would make the transition the following year, for six years, until all grade levels had moved over.

If a transfer occurs, Sagebrush property owners would be relieved of their property tax obligations to GUSD and begin to pay La Cañada property and parcel taxes effective 2015-16 (with tax payments due in December 2015 and April 2016).

Currently, GUSD households pay $46 per $100,000 of assessed home value for the Measure S bond measure. Once inside LCUSD boundaries, homeowners would pay $61 per $100,000, though that amount is projected to decline through 2020 as the La Cañada school bonds become fully repaid.

Sagebrush homeowners would also pay a $450-per-parcel tax annually, the result of a measure passed by 68% of LCUSD voters in a March 4 election.

Current figures from the city of La Cañada estimate there are 780 residential parcels in the Sagebrush area, and 870 total parcels. The combined assessed home value of that area amounts to about $500 million.

To compensate Glendale Unified for the potential loss of taxpayers, LCUSD would pay the district $255,000 starting in 2015-16 for a 13-year period, with a 4.75% increase each year.

Additionally, La Cañada Unified would remit to GUSD $1.4 million on the date of the transfer, plus an additional $100,000 annually for six years.

Should GUSD vote against the transfer, the stakes would be high.

“If the two districts cannot come to an agreement, the next step would most likely result in Unite LCF! filing a petition with the L.A. County Committee [on School District Organization] with the submittal of the resolution approved by the city,” Tracy said.

A no vote by the Glendale school board would mean the withdrawal of the combined $6.45 million being offered by LCUSD. And should the county committee rule in favor of La Cañada, the transfer would be wholesale and begin immediately.

La Cañada City Council member Jon Curtis, who worked with fellow Councilman Don Voss to aid the school district in its negotiations, said Tuesday he was hopeful a favorable agreement would soon be reached.

“I am very optimistic and so pleased at the way La Cañada Unified, the city and the residents have all come together and worked together,” Curtis said of the effort. “It really is about enhanced community identity for all the residents and all the children in La Cañada.”

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Follow Sara Cardine on Twitter: @SaraCardine.

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