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Accord sought over Sagebrush issue

Glendale and La Ca�±ada may revisit history in negotiating decades-long battle over school district boundaries.

November 01, 2013|By Kelly Corrigan, kelly.corrigan@latimes.com
  • Mountain Avenue Elementary School on Mountain Avenue in La Crescenta on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, has 145 Sagebrush residents. La Cañada and Glendale school officials say they would carefully plan for the schools future, should Mountain Avenue lose those students to La Cañada Unified School District.
Mountain Avenue Elementary School on Mountain Avenue… (Raul Roa / Staff…)

In the early 1990s, they called themselves the Sagebrush Committee, and their catalyst was Rose McCoppin.

As a La Cañada resident living in the Sagebrush, McCoppin was forced to pull her son out of La Cañada's Palm Crest Elementary after Glendale Unified denied her request to allow her son, Kevin, to attend La Cañada schools.

By the time Glendale Unified reversed its stance and issued her an interdistrict permit, McCoppin had enrolled her son in a private school. But that didn't stop her efforts to rally the neighbors to learn how they could transfer the westernmost area of La Cañada, an area that had had been served by Glendale schools for decades, to La Cañada Unified.

About 15 residents met for the first time at McCoppin's home in October of 1991. During the following weeks, McCoppin attended Glendale school board meetings and even told then-Supt. Robert Sanchis, “I want you to release us.” 

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“He said, ‘Ma'am, do you know Glendale people?” McCoppin recalled him saying during an interview this week. “‘We're very good people….You should very glad and excited.'”

Nevertheless, in November of 1991, the Sagebrush Committee filed a petition with the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization, which in 1992 voted to approve the transfer.

But that approval was short lived; Glendale Unified filed an appeal with the California State Board of Education, which sided with Glendale.

By 1997, the La Cañada residents, frustrated over the board's decision, now working under the title “Unite La Cañada Flintridge,” continued to pursue the transfer, according to the a Los Angeles Times story.

Ultimately, their request to overturn the state board of education's decision was denied. 

“Everybody was disappointed,” McCoppin recalled this week. “All that hard work went to nothing.”

It wasn't the first attempt by Sagebrush residents to become part of the La Cañada Unified School District.

In 1979, hopeful residents turned in 450 signatures of registered Sagebrush voters to the Los Angeles County Board of Education, according to the Los Angeles Times. They were led by Judy Gabelman, according to records that current La Cañada school board President Scott Tracy discovered in district archives. 

But in 1980, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors denied the petition, Tracy said.

When La Cañada incorporated in 1976, La Cañada Unified was already 15 years old. Tracy said that with the city's establishment, residents sought to transfer the Sagebrush territory to La Cañada Unified, spurring the ultimately unsuccessful effort three years later. 

But the reason for the school district boundary lines not matching the city's remain unclear, however.

“For whatever reason that boundary was set there, it did not correlate between the historical boundary of the two cities,” Tracy said.

A renewed effort

Tom Smith, who lives in the Sagebrush neighborhood, but does not have children attending Glendale or La Cañada schools, said he was approached by neighbors to take up the cause last spring.

“I think they saw I had too much time on my hands and they decided to give me an issue that is very important to us as a neighborhood,” he told the Glendale school board in mid-October.

As chair of “Unite LCF” — the name is a nod to the 1990s committee — Smith said residents seek a transfer to achieve community cohesiveness.

“The children and the students that live in this area are now forced to divide their attention, their time, their passions, between their school and their community,” he said at the meeting.

Smith also has overwhelming support in La Cañada's elected officials.

La Cañada City Councilman Don Voss said that since he joined the council in 2006, residents have voiced concern over the territory.

In June, the city council passed a unanimous resolution to support the transfer.

“We're very supportive of it because we support our residents and our residents want this to happen,” Voss said this week.

Due to La Cañada Unified's ability to absorb more students now than the 1990s push, La Cañada officials believe the timing for a renewed effort is right.

There are currently 600 students enrolled in La Cañada Unified who come from out of the area, as the district has more capacity than it has local residents.

“The question is ‘Why, to what end?'” Tracy asked. “The end is so that we can collectively foster and support greater involvement and student achievement that we couldn't otherwise realize.”

In Glendale, however, school officials are uncertain how they would collect taxes to pay for the school bonds that Sagebrush residents voted on, if the territory were to transfer.

What's at stake

Glendale school officials have said they could lose up to 400 students to the transfer and $3.6 million in state revenue by 2018. In La Cañada, however, officials have said 260 students would be affected.

In October, about 200 parents showed up at Mountain Avenue to hear Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan speak about the transfer process.

Parents concerned over the future of Mountain Avenue told the Glendale school board they want to weigh in on whether Mountain Avenue would turn into a magnet school for the arts or sciences or remain a neighborhood school, should the transfer occur.

The school has 145 Sagebrush residents. Officials on both sides say they would carefully plan for the school's future, should Mountain Avenue lose those students.

Glendale Unified currently receives $46 per assessed $100,000 in property taxes each year to pay for Measure S, a $270-million school bond voters approved two years ago. If Glendale Unified loses the Sagebrush area, it would lose about $500 million in assessed value, and about $210,000 in property taxes each year.

If La Cañada Unified succeeds in folding the Sagebrush properties into its district, a proposed $450 parcel tax collected from about 870 parcels in the area would provide La Cañada schools an additional $391,000 per year. LCUSD is preparing to put the parcel tax on the March 2014 ballot, which would be voted on in all areas of the city served by the district. 

What's next

Sheehan said this week that Glendale and La Cañada school officials are still in negotiations over the territory.

“The discussions have been very positive in nature,” he said. “However, whether a settlement will happen remains to be seen.”

Tracy acknowledged that while there is no guarantee both districts can come to an agreement, he said they would benefit by reaching an agreement, he said.

Tracy said a potential agreement could possibly entail relocating Sagebrush students into La Cañada Unified over a six-year period.

“It's not in anybody's interest to have those students transfer in one moment in time,” Tracy said.

Glendale school board member Mary Boger hopes the districts can reach an agreement. The majority of Glendale school board members have suggested making the area an open-enrollment one, giving parents the choice which district to add their children to, and Boger favors that approach.

“I hope that we will be able to negotiate a reasonable settlement,” she said.

As the two school districts continue to negotiate, the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization also waits for an outcome.

Should the school districts fail to meet an agreement, the Sagebrush residents could file a petition with the committee, according to Keith Crafton, an official with thecommittee.

The committee is made up of 11 members who are elected by representatives of 94 school and college governing boards in Los Angeles County. Two members are selected in each of the county's five supervisorial districts, with one elected at-large.

La Cañada school board member Joel Peterson holds one of the fifth supervisorial district seats.

During an August school board meeting, when the La Cañada school board adopted a resolution supporting the transfer, Peterson abstained from voting, stating he wanted to preserve his ability to vote on the issue if it came before the county committee.

Crafton said the committee's legal department is currently reviewing whether or not Peterson could vote on the issue.

Peterson did not return requests for his comment for this story. His term on the committee expires in 2016.

In considering the decades-long dispute over the territory, Crafton hopes the two school districts reach an agreement on their own, and therefore bypass the county committee.

“Maybe this thing will be put to rest forever,” he said.

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Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.

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