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Opponents and supporters of Sagebrush transfer make their cases to county officials

During a public hearing Wednesday evening that lasted more than three hours and completely filled the La Cañada Unified School District boardroom with stakeholders, 27 people spoke in favor of transferring La Cañada's Sagebrush territory out of Glendale Unified's jurisdiction and into LCUSD.

Residents on both sides of transferring the 385-acre area were allowed 90 seconds to state their case to the Los Angeles County Office of Education Committee on School District Organization.

Many of the supporters of the transfer who addressed the committee were Sagebrush residents. Of the 11 people who spoke against the transfer, five were either Glendale school board members or employees; three were current or former Crescenta Valley Town Council members and the remaining three were parents of GUSD students.

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The Sagebrush area of La Cañada has historically been served by Glendale Unified, and La Cañada citizens' past attempts to transfer it into La Cañada Unified, beginning with the city's incorporation in 1976, were unsuccessful.

A recent petition by the citizens group Unite LCF!, signed by more than 700 Sagebrush residents this year, kick-started the committee's process for considering to approve or deny the request.

La Cañada School Board member Ellen Multari referred to the ongoing dilemma as a "50-year-old civic challenge" but one that she and fellow La Cañada school and city officials are prepared to see through.

Of the roughly 200 to 300 students who live in the Sagebrush area, 117 currently attend La Cañada schools by permit, Multari said.

La Cañada Unified Supt. Wendy Sinnette said school officials are prepared for an influx of Sagebrush students into La Cañada schools.

"Excluding Sagebrush [residents] from our schools excludes them from an essential part of our community," Sinnette told the committee. "We believe we can resolve this disparity responsibly."

Proponents say aligning the city and school district boundaries would create a more cohesive La Cañada community.

"The school district is such an integral part of the city," said Ian McFeat, La Cañada High School principal.

Opponents of the transfer, including Glendale Unified Supt. Winfred Roberson Jr., said losing Sagebrush would result in a "loss of precious instructional dollars," which would total nearly $3 million per year.

In addition, the 1,000 Sagebrush homes also represent about 2% of Glendale Unified's tax base, according to reports previously released by the district.

For some supporters, the transfer is appealing because La Cañada schools maintain lower class sizes than Glendale's, often with several fewer students per class.

Scott Tracy, a former La Cañada Unified School Board president, also said La Cañada schools have not offered any split classes in at least a decade while there are three split classes — where one instructor teaches two grades at the same time — at Mountain Avenue Elementary alone this year.

For Sagebrush resident Stephanie Hosford, her support for a transfer came down to a feeling that was similarly expressed by fellow supporters, one of inclusiveness in her own city.

"We feel that we are in a no man's land, and it's unfortunate to feel you don't belong anywhere, and I do think feelings should count," she said.

Conflict potential raised

At least one opponent, Glendale parent James Bodnar, told the committee he took issue with one member of the county committee, Joel Peterson, being allowed to weigh in on the transfer.

Peterson is a former La Cañada School Board president who recused himself from voting on a 2013 resolution supporting the transfer so he could vote on the matter if it went to the county committee.

"I have confirmed that I can vote on it and there is no conflict of interest," Peterson said as he left Wednesday's meeting.

Children's ties a concern

Glendale's Supt. Roberson asked the committee to deny the transfer.

"The class sizes are larger," Roberson said. "But still our students perform as well as districts with smaller class sizes, which is a testament to the care and concern our teachers give to each and every student. I think that's something to be acknowledged."

Later, in his closing remarks, Roberson added: "There is no educational reason that I see for this transfer, but I do see harm coming to the students ... our students in the Sagebrush area. The facts are very clear when you take 5-year-olds, 6-year-olds, 7-year-olds that have formed relationships ... and you rip them away from their friends ... that's problematic, and that doesn't sound like a good educational reason for this transfer."

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Kelly Corrigan, kelly.corrigan@latimes.com

Twitter: @kellymcorrigan

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