Glendale school officials delay Sagebrush vote

The Glendale school board postponed a vote regarding a controversial transfer of the Sagebrush territory to La Cañada Unified after Supt. Dick Sheehan asked for more time to negotiate with the affluent district’s leaders.

“We do not anticipate this slowing down the process,” he said, advocating the board remove the item from Tuesday’s agenda. “However, we just wanted to be able to have constructive dialogue on the potential for an MOU with La Cañada and the feeling that we’re under the gun to vote tonight did not feel fair.”

Had the Glendale school board voted Tuesday night to authorize the transfer, the item would still have returned to them for final approval at a later date. Now, Sheehan said both districts will be allowed more “open, strong dialogue,” before “getting a decision done” in August.

Glendale school board members have discussed the issue during public school board and town hall meetings for several months as district officials on both sides have negotiated terms.

The long-simmering debate reignited in May 2013 when Sagebrush residents — who are in La Cañada’s city limits but whose children are served by GUSD — asked La Cañada school and city officials to support their efforts.

“This would be — no personal offense to anyone in La Cañada — the equivalent of a hostile takeover,” said school board member Christine Walters. “What’s going to happen is, either we decide to negotiate something or La Cañada has already passed a resolution that they will go through the legal process to take this area. And if that happens, we lose a lot and we don’t have any input in the process.”

If talks break down, La Cañada officials have vowed to request the transfer through the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization. Similar requests have been submitted in the past, most recently in the 1990s when the committee ruled in favor of La Cañada. That decision, however, was overturned by state education officials.

The Sagebrush territory equates to $500 million in assessed value, and Glendale Unified projects losing about 350 students who live in the area to La Cañada Unified.

Without an agreement, Glendale would swiftly lose those students if the committee votes in favor of La Cañada. Glendale also stands to lose about $2.5 million per year in state funds attached to those students.

Both districts have talked about a plan that would have students gradually switch to La Cañada schools over a six-year period. La Cañada school officials have been asked to pay Glendale $6.8 million, the amount Sagebrush property owners’ owe to Glendale for the district’s already-issued Measure K and Measure S bonds.

On Tuesday, Glendale school officials vowed to return to the Sagebrush discussion in August, saying they would discuss what La Cañada would be willing to pay Glendale, and what Glendale would be willing to accept.

Much of Tuesday’s discussion centered on the loss of state funds Glendale Unified would endure in no longer serving Sagebrush students.

“I am interested in getting and requesting the most for our district,” said school board member Nayiri Nahabedian, who joined the meeting via video conference in Armenia. “We are going to be impacted most negatively in this situation.”

“I can appreciate the need for more time,” said Sagebrush resident Don Davis who is in favor of the transfer. “Certainly this is not something that needs to be done under the gun, but I can also assure you, too…the patience is wearing a little thin here and we would like to see concrete action in the near future.”

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