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Sagebrush territory transfer petition to be voted on in October

Sagebrush
The Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization said Wednesday it will vote on the Sagebrush territory transfer at October’s meeting.
(Photo by Sara Cardine)

Nearly a year’s worth of setbacks is expected to give way next month to a long-awaited decision from the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization.

The governing body postponed its ruling during a meeting Wednesday morning in Downey, saying it would wait until its next meeting, set for Oct. 2, before deciding on whether to approve an attempt by some west La Cañada Flintridge property owners to split from the Glendale Unified School District and join La Cañada Unified.

Committee secretary Keith Crafton, the LACOE director of business advisory services, said since a large crowd was expected and the process would slow other agenda items, it would be best to postpone the decision to the later date.

It’s been nearly a year since the panel held a California Environmental Quality Act study session on Oct. 4, 2018, during which county committee member AJ Willmer said he suspected a vote on the territory transfer would happen “60 days from now.”

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Since last October, Glendale and La Cañada Unified have asked for delays, while committee members have complained the amount of paperwork filed, estimated to be in the hundreds by LACOE staff, has slowed the process.

“The expectation is that at the Oct. 2 meeting the committee will vote on acceptance of the findings from the CEQA study and a vote on an approval or disapproval of the petition,” Crafton said Wednesday.

The territory transfer effort began Nov. 23, 2015, when a trio from the grassroots group UniteLCF!, including Tom Smith and Nalini Lasiewicz, submitted a petition to Los Angeles County.

The request was for properties in the western part of La Cañada Flintridge known as Sagebrush, which falls under Glendale Unified’s jurisdiction, to be transferred to La Cañada Unified so that children residing there could attend schools in their hometown.

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There have been at least four major Sagebrush breakaway attempts since 1961.

Currently, Sagebrush residents must apply for transfer permits with La Cañada Unified to enroll their children into the district, while also obtaining a release from Glendale Unified. The process takes place every April and students who miss the window are out of luck.

One difference at Wednesday’s meeting, in comparison to last October’s get-together, was the crowd support.

Last year, La Cañada packed the committee gathering with 27 speakers, versus only nine from Glendale.

This time, Glendale owned the floor as 11 of 12 audience members commented about “keeping Glendale Unified whole,” including Supt. Vivian Ekchian, board president Jennifer Freemon and Glendale Teachers Assn. president Taline Arsenian.

Mountain Avenue Elementary parent Erica Whinston, who has children in kindergarten, third and fifth grades, said she felt compelled to speak on behalf of Glendale Unified.

“The district and the school value diversity and value the social and emotional well-being of the kids,” Whinston said.

Mountain Avenue principal Jaclyn Scott also offered her opinion.

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“There’s no question that the territory transfer causes questions, concerns and unrest for members of our community and most importantly, our students,” she said.

La Cañada’s lone speaker was Nick Karapetian, who said he felt the discussion became sidetracked.

“No one is saying Glendale doesn’t have good schools. They have great schools and La Cañada does too,” Karapetian said. “All we’re asking is that members of the Sagebrush community be given the chance to decide for themselves.”

Karapetian also said he was disappointed by the lack of empathy from Glendale Unified backers.

“Imagine if 10% of Glendale Unified was controlled by Burbank,” Karapetian said. “Glendale Unified parents and staff would be asking for the same thing we are right now, which is the ability to go to their hometown school district.”

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