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La Cañada, Pasadena Unified programs enlist Realtor help to promote public schools

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La Cañada Unified school board member Brent Kuszyk addresses real estate professionals at a Feb. 5 Realtor Roundtable that aims to give agents talking points about what’s happening in La Cañada public schools.
(Sara Cardine)

Hoping to entice potential home buyers with young children to enroll in public schools, two local districts are enlisting the aid of real estate professionals.

La Cañada and Pasadena Unified school district officials have recently undertaken separate but similar efforts to teach area Realtors about offerings that may give the public institutions an edge over the competition — private schools.

The two programs invite area professionals onto school grounds, where teachers and administrators bring guests up to speed on new initiatives taking place across campuses. Realtors then get a chance to tour a school and engage in conversations that will later help them as they discuss school choice with clients.

Giving Realtors a seat at the ‘table’

In La Cañada, where the California Assn. of Realtors placed the January median home sale price at $1,525,000, a high-performing public school system is a draw for prospective home buyers who can afford it. But several nearby private alternatives also exist.

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Realtors tour La Cañada High School’s robotics and engineering lab during a Feb. 5 Realtor Roundtable that aims to update real estate agents on the new happenings throughout La Cañada Unified School District.
(Sara Cardine)

During a Feb. 5 “Realtor Roundtable” at La Cañada High School, LCUSD Board Member Brent Kuszyk acknowledged the important role real estate agents play in introducing prospective families to a school district.

“Realtors, you are the front line — you see almost all of our families and students before we see them,” Kuszyk said, addressing a crowd of about 60 or more agents at the inaugural event he helped create.

“There are so many great things going on in the district. We know we’re not the only game in town, that there are other places people buy houses,” he continued. “So, we want to give you the best information.”

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Beth Mumper, a wellness office worker at La Cañada High School, speaks with real estate agents during a Feb. 5 event designed to bring real estate professionals up to speed on new programs and projects throughout the district.
(Sara Cardine/La Cañada Valley Sun)

Agents learned in a three-hour session how high-performing LCUSD schools now also focus on building student resilience and fostering well-being through a range of services and supports. They heard how a $149-million Measure LCF school bond is being used to renovate campuses and how the district is implementing safety and security measures at all schools.

“Most school districts are experiencing a decline in enrollment,” said LCUSD Supt. Wendy Sinnette, who put the district’s enrollment at a steady 4,150 students. “We want to make sure we hold our market share. The more we can do to reach out to our Realtors who are on the front lines is a positive thing.”

Julie Milbrodt, a Keller Williams Realtor and La Cañada Unified parent who helped organize the Realtors Roundtable, said school choice is a major deciding factor for home buyers. Despite La Cañada’s solid reputation in the minds of many clients, there’s always misinformation to combat.

“If you take some time to learn from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, you get the real information,” she said. “That’s really important for Realtors.”

Roundtable participants toured the high school campus, visiting the Wellness Center, engineering and robotics lab and a recently renovated band room, among other spots. Remax Tri-City Realtor Beatrice Harendza was impressed by what she saw.

“La Cañada almost speaks for itself, and its reputation precedes it,” said Harendza, who put her own children through LCUSD schools years earlier. “But this kind of forum is fabulous because it really goes more in depth. Kids really have so many opportunities here.”

PUSD supporters breed agents of change

With a January median home sales price of $934,500, Pasadena’s housing market is slightly more affordable than La Cañada’s.

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But with more than 50 private and charter options competing for students, only about 55% of resident youth attend PUSD schools, according to Monica Lopez, marketing director for the Pasadena Education Foundation (PEF), which raises $12 million to $15 million annually in support of the district.

“It’s a real challenge. We have more private or charter school options per capita than any city our size in the country,” Lopez said. “We also have shrinking enrollment due to lower birth rates and the increasing cost of housing in our community.”

Current enrollment stands at about 16,276 this school year, down from the 18,410 students reported in 2016-17, according to district figures.

In Pasadena’s long history, the lingering specter of a1970 federal court-ordered desegregation of the public school system that bused students to schools outside their home neighborhoods still seems to play a role in how PUSD is perceived today.

“PUSD was the first district west of Mississippi that saw forced integration. Many families stayed in the district, other families did not,” said Nancy Rose Dufford, executive director of the Pasadena Educational Network (PEN), which promotes family participation in public education. “Even though the district has changed so much since then, it’s taken a really long time for the perception of the community to catch up.”

Dufford said it’s not uncommon for real estate agents to steer clients away from the PUSD system and toward a private or charter school, overlooking dual-language immersion and magnet campuses and world-class programs being offered free of charge at Pasadena public schools.

To help create a positive first impression of the school district Realtors can share with their clients, the Pasadena Education Foundation (PEF) and area Realtor Del Lile formed a “Realtor Initiative,” establishing liaisons at real estate offices to disseminate news and information about PUSD schools.

PEF and PEN members collaborated with the Pasadena Foothill Assn. of Realtors (PFAR), a professional organization whose agents sell homes in Pasadena, San Marino, South Pasadena and the Foothills communities of La Cañada, La Crescenta and Sunland-Tujunga.

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In April 2019, they launched a PUSD Certification program that takes PFAR Realtors through a half-day introduction on what Pasadena Unified Schools are doing now and includes a tour of a school facility doing innovative things.

PFAR Past President Emilie Broughton, who helped develop the now semiannual program, said Realtors who go through the program are amazed by what they never knew about Pasadena public schools until they saw them firsthand.

One Realtor, she said, was so impressed she made the decision to remove her kids from private school and enroll them at PUSD. Broughton, who attended a class and was surprised at all she learned, said seeing is believing.

“The teachers are able to talk to us, and we’re able to see the facilities in person,” she said. “If you were watching a PowerPoint presentation, you just wouldn’t get it. It takes going to a school and getting to see it in 3D that I think makes our program really powerful.”

PFAR’s next PUSD Certification takes place April 22 at Pasadena’s John Muir High School.

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