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Glendale Unified continues to mull over Sagebrush

The Glendale school board is looking to make a decision next month on whether to transfer the Sagebrush territory to the La Cañada Unified School District.

Glendale school officials announced Tuesday they hired True North Research to perform a survey in the La Cañada district. Approximately 1,600 registered voters will be contacted this week, said company president Timothy McLarney.

He told the Glendale school board that residents could take the survey online or over the phone, and that surveyors would explain the potential transfer and its ramifications on Sagebrush residents.

If the transfer occurs, Sagebrush residents would relinquish their tax obligations to Glendale Unified and pay taxes to La Cañada Unified instead, including a $450 annual parcel tax.

"Once they understand all the parameters, does their opinion stay the same [or] does their opinion change?" McLarney said. "Here, we're basically giving everybody an opportunity to weigh in."

In recent months, Glendale and La Cañada school officials have talked about a six-year plan that would offer at least some parents the choice of either district. After that point, however, all students in the area would be under the La Cañada district.

Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan said the board "is trying to make a decision that is an educated decision," adding that the board will need time to review the survey results before voting.

"It's a very emotional decision, but at the same time we are trying to present as much information to make an educated decision…It is a huge topic for both districts, but I guarantee you our interest lies in the Glendale schools," he said.

Glendale school board member Christine Walters said she was looking at the overall issue from a "risk-mitigation standpoint" as she tried to examine where kids could be harmed the most.

While the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization will ultimately decide if the transfer should occur, the Glendale board is trying to decide whether they will come to a negotiated agreement with La Cañada Unified or not, she said.

If the two districts don't reach an agreement, and the committee decides to transfer the territory, students could transfer to La Cañada schools all at once.

Under the proposed agreement, La Cañada Unified would pay Glendale Unified $4.45 million over the span of 13 years to provide Glendale with funds they would have otherwise collected through property taxes from Sagebrush residents.

"Should we lose, then we have no compensation whatsoever," Walters said.

If the districts come to an agreement, they would have more flexibility in slowly enrolling more Sagebrush students into La Cañada schools, potentially starting in July 2015.

School board member Greg Krikorian said the transfer "makes the most sense" for both districts.

But some La Crescenta residents expressed concern over Mountain Avenue, should its enrollment decrease. About 150 students who live in the Sagebrush area attend the school.

Officials have said they would spend a year creating a plan for the school, and potentially explore adding a science, technology, engineering and math emphasis to it.

"This plan that is not in place needs to be in place for the kids that are there now and the kids that will go there in the future, and we deserve that," said Robbyn Battles, who addressed the board on behalf of the Crescenta Valley Town Council.

After the meeting, school board member Mary Boger said the district would seek input from the school's community — parents, teachers and staff — to devise a plan.

"We want that Mountain Avenue community to plan the future of their school," she said.

Sheehan also expressed confidence in the school's future should the transfer occur.

"We will make sure Mountain is well taken care of and sustainable and that that area is taken care of," he said.


Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.


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