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Glendale Unified will find out Sagebrush’s fate soon

Within the next two months, the Glendale Unified School District should find out if another attempt by some residents living in the Sagebrush area in La Cañada Flintridge to separate and join La Cañada Unified will be successful.

That announcement was made during a review of a California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, study Wednesday morning at the Los Angeles County Office of Education, or LACOE.

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“We will let you know when we’re going to have a meeting to take a final vote on this,” committee member AJ Willmer said. “I suspect it’s going to be 60 days from now.”

The CEQA study was commissioned after the county committee gave preliminary approval to a transfer petition in May 2017. The study’s purpose was to evaluate potential impacts resulting from the proposed transfer.

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The most recent attempt marks the fourth petition for a transfer since 1961.

The 66-page study noted that if the transfer is approved, between roughly 355 and about 151 students may move from Glendale Unified’s Mountain Avenue Elementary School, Rosemont Middle School and Crescenta Valley High School to La Cañada Unified’s Palm Crest Elementary and La Cañada High, which offers middle school services.

CEQA’s study concluded that the transfer would have no impact in several areas, including aesthetics, air quality, cultural resources, noise, population and housing, recreation as well as utility and service systems.

However, some areas such as public services, transportation and traffic are expected to be impacted.

The majority of the 36 area residents and officials who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting advocated for the transfer, led by La Cañada Unified Supt. Wendy Sinnette and Mayor Terry Walker.

“We just want to be able to be part of our local school district, be part of our local community and essentially you’ve heard from us a heartfelt ‘please’ to get this done,” said Sagebrush parent Christina Tusan.

“We have students who are transferred, and we don’t know” if Glendale Unified will continue approving individual transfers, she added.

Glendale Unified did have a few speakers, including district Supt. Winfred B. Roberson Jr., who was joined by board members Shant Sahakian, Jennifer Freemon and Armina Gharpetian. Talin Arsenian, president of the Glendale Teachers Assn., also spoke.

“We have made an arrangement for any family that wishes to transfer to be able to transfer,” Roberson said. “That has been a compromise that has been reached between the districts.”

He added about the transfer of the entire 380-acre Sagebrush area, “There’s been no educational reason for this. We have seen financial reasons, but no educational reasons.”

Exactly how many students live in the Sagebrush community was a point of contention.

The CEQA study used Glendale Unified’s figures, which listed 356 students during the 2016-17 school year attended Glendale Unified schools.

Stephen Dickinson, Glendale Unified’s chief business and financial officer, calculated that a loss of 356 students translates into a $2.7 million annual hit in state funding. He added that while that was only 1% of the district’s budget, it is equivalent to 27 teachers’ salaries.

That student population estimate admittedly used a “worse-case scenario approach,” said Kevin Ferrier, with Terry A. Hayes Associates Inc., the firm that conducted the study.

La Cañada countered that the number of Sagebrush students attending Glendale Unified was around 151.

The meeting on Wednesday was a continuation of a process that began June 2016, when LACOE received a transfer petition from Tom Smith and Nalini Lasiewicz, backed by the group UniteLCF!

One blow to UniteLCF!’s efforts came when committee secretary Keith Crafton, the LACOE director of business advisory services, clarified that the committee never formally endorsed the transfer.

“At the May 2017 meeting, a number of preliminary or straw votes were taken — all non-binding as the committee discussed each of the conditions used to analyze the petition,” Crafton said. “The request to let the petition move forward and have a CEQA conducted is in no way an approval.”

Although she is on the opposite side of the collective-bargaining table from Roberson, Arsenian said she felt compelled to speak.

“The petitioners are asking for what they already have,” she said. “The petitioners are already sending their students to the La Cañada Unified School District. Unfortunately, they want to make decisions for the other parents that live in Sagebrush.”

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