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School Plan Sparks Bitter Dispute : Education: A proposal to change attendance boundaries has residents of Saugus and Canyon Country trading insults.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In this quiet, affluent city in northern Los Angeles County, a vocal and sometimes vicious debate has been touched off between residents of two of its primary communities by proposed changes to school attendance boundaries.

The dispute, which some have termed class warfare, pits Saugus residents against their neighbors in Canyon Country, with both sides trading insults about the other’s community.

At the heart of the matter is a reconfiguration plan that the William S. Hart Union High School District must make to accommodate the opening of a new high school in Valencia and a junior high in Canyon Country.

Under the district’s initial plan, students living in Saugus’ upper Bouquet Canyon neighborhood would shift in 1995 from Arroyo Seco Junior High School to Sierra Vista Junior High School in Canyon Country.

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The plan has upset many Saugus parents who want their children to stay in their neighborhood schools--including the wife of a city official.

“If we wanted our kids to go to Canyon Canyon (schools), we would’ve moved into Canyon Country. We would’ve paid $50,000 less for our homes and sent them to some of the worst schools,” said Patti Kolin, whose husband, Jeff, is Santa Clarita’s deputy city manager.

Kolin and other Saugus parents struck a spark to the powder-keg issue earlier this month when they strongly criticized Canyon Country at a public meeting held to discuss the boundary changes. Residents of Canyon Country--the city’s easternmost community--were characterized as lower income, less ambitious and transient.

Their remarks created a hot wave of indignation among Canyon Country residents, who in turn harshly criticized their Saugus neighbors in phone calls to the city’s mayor, the public works department where Kolin’s husband works and the local Signal newspaper, which prints a column featuring anonymous call-ins from residents.

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“The derogatory remarks made by Patti Kolin regarding the citizens who live in Canyon Country speak clearly to her lack of education, to say nothing of her lack of humanity,” read one published call.

“And to read that her husband . . . is deputy city manager makes her ignorant and bigot-filled remarks highly intolerable. We would like to remind Mrs. Kolin that the citizens of Canyon Country, the same citizens she snubs her nose at, contribute greatly to her family’s ‘upwardly mobile’ income.”

Mayor George Pederson said he has received 15 to 20 phone calls on the topic--more calls than any other single issue has generated in his two years on the City Council.

The conflict is in sharp contrast to the cooperation among neighborhoods that followed the Jan. 17 Northridge earthquake, Pederson said. Nevertheless, he believes the conflict is an isolated incident.

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“I reject the argument there is a class warfare going on between communities,” said Pederson. “I don’t think it has anything to do with one district thinking it has better schools than another.”

As a city official, Jeff Kolin has been the target of much of the criticism. Kolin said he received about 15 calls and other messages passed on through the city switchboard.

“The calls that I’ve received have been people who wanted to know if my wife’s views are the same as my views or the city’s views,” he said.

He said he does not agree with his wife’s comments.

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Kolin said most callers have been understanding once he talks with them, explaining that the vehement responses demonstrate residents’ deep feelings for their children, community and schools.

“It’s an issue of great concern for a lot of people through the community,” he said. “This community and valley is a really unique place. It (has) much more community involvement, participation and pride than any other community I’ve worked in.”

Hart officials are still wrestling with the emotional topic, modifying the original plan to give students more opportunity to transfer back to their old campus. A final vote on the new attendance boundaries is scheduled March 9 by the Board of Education.

In the meantime, Hart officials say their campuses are unique, but uniform in their quality.

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“Canyon (High) is better than Saugus (High) in some ways. Saugus is better than Hart in some areas. Hart is better than Canyon Country in some ways,” said Lew White, district facilities director.

“We have an obligation to make each one of our schools a good one. And, in fact, we have upheld that obligation.”


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