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La Cañada residents reflect on long, uphill battle for ‘Sagebrush’ transfer

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Petitioners with Unite LCF collect signatures in 2016. On Wednesday, the Los Angeles County District on School District Organization voted 6-3 in favor of the group’s request to have homes in La Cañada’s Sagebrush territory transferred from Glendale Unified to La Cañada Unified School District boundaries.
(File photo)

Residents of La Cañada’s western “Sagebrush” neighborhood were jubilant Wednesday after a petition requesting transfer of their homes from Glendale Unified boundaries into those of the La Cañada Unified School District was approved 6-3 by a county district organization committee.

“This is a win for La Cañada families and schools and for the people in Sagebrush, the people truly affected by the decision,” said homeowner Nalini Lasiewicz, part of a local group whose members have worked for more than six years to have the matter heard.

The Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization voted, 6-3, to transfer Sagebrush from Glendale Unified control to La Cañada Unified. Voters will be asked to ratify it.

Lasiewicz and other petitioners often described the fractured feeling of living in La Cañada but being cut off from its schools and programs.

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“Sagebrush families have been part of a cycle of alienation, segregation and being forced to be in a school that’s different than your city,” she said Wednesday. “If you have one foot in a school and another foot in another city, it’s difficult. It’s hard enough to be friends with your own immediate community.”

The battle for whose schools would serve Sagebrush students is long and storied — three previous and highly contested petition attempts date back to 1961. Past decisions made by the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization in favor of a transfer were appealed and put before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and, in 1991, the California Board of Education.

Despite the escalations district boundaries remain unchanged.

Although nearly 800 neighbors signed the latest petition in 2013, supporters of the transfer faced enormous opposition from Glendale Unified officials, who maintained such a move would have a detrimental effect on Glendale school facilities and the district’s finances.

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An Aug. 16 letter to the county committee signed by GUSD Supt. Vivian Ekchian questioned the motives of Sagebrush residents whose home values could potentially increase by a transfer into LCUSD. The letter called out what it claimed is the petitioners’ “devious and unfair gamesmanship.”

“Petitioners’ desire to forcibly relocate territory students to LCUSD is not in the students’ best interests, but in petitioners’ who long to increase their property values and be members of the exclusive community,” it stated.

In an interview Monday, La Cañada Unified Supt. Wendy Sinnette said she was cautiously optimistic about the outcome of Wednesday’s committee meeting but concerned with some of the comments made against the district and the petitioners.

“It’s been hard to understand the virulence with which the claims are being made,” Sinnette said. “One of the priorities for La Cañada has always been to maintain, as much as possible, the positive working relationship the district has with Glendale.”

The superintendent acknowledged any decision made by the committee likely would be appealed by the losing party.

“We’ve been down this road before, and to not have learned from the past would be a fool’s errand,” Sinnette said. “I think we have to trust the process.”

Tom Smith — chair of petitioning group UniteLCF — was hopeful heading into Wednesday’s hearing. He said while it’s been frustrating to see residents’ integrity impugned by GUSD throughout the process, supporters are determined to keep fighting the good fight.

“The message repeated over the last 50 years is this isn’t going to go away until it’s been resolved the way we think it should be resolved,” Smith said. “I think that’s a given.”

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