Members of the La Cañada school board on Tuesday expressed hopes that a territory transfer of homes near the city’s western border from the Glendale Unified School District into the LCUSD could be on the horizon. And they read a resolution placing a $450 seven-year parcel tax on a March 4 ballot.
While that meeting was taking place, their counterparts on the Glendale Unified School District board considered allowing parents in the affected neighborhoods, long known as the Sagebrush area, to choose whether to send their children to Glendale or La Cañada public schools. They hope such a move will resolve a decades-old dispute between the districts.
La Cañada Unified officials say about 260 students who live in the Sagebrush section attend Glendale schools; GUSD officials say the figure is closer to 400. Also, Glendale officials say property taxes due its district under voter-approved bonds would continue to be collected under an open-enrollment plan, even if parents choose to send their children to La Cañada schools.
“It would be just as though all of the students were coming to Glendale Unified as they are now,” said Eva Lueck, chief business and financial officer for Glendale Unified. “There would be no change in how taxes are currently being assessed.”
But La Cañada officials are not talking about an open enrollment plan; they want the entire territory transferred to the LCUSD.
Millions of dollars at stake
If La Cañada Unified’s proposed parcel tax is approved by voters next spring, it would bring in approximately $2.7 million without the Sagebrush area parcels. But if La Cañada is successful in having all Sagebrush properties transferred to its district, the $450 tax collected from the approximately 870 parcels there would bring La Cañada schools an additional $391,000 per year, for a total of approximately $3.1 million into the LCUD coffers annually.
The board assured that school choice would be respected through permits if an agreement between the districts were reached and that after the transfer, residents will only have to pay La Cañada property taxes and the parcel tax, should it be approved in a spring mail-in ballot election.
Sagebrush residents have long complained their unique status unfairly sets them apart, something Glendale school board member Mary Boger said at Tuesday’s GUSD meeting that she was “stunned” to hear.
“I think of all the children who live in La Cañada who go to private schools. Do they feel equally left out of La Cañada community?” she asked. “The only truly ethical and moral decision to be made here is a quite simple one,” Boger added. “We simply create Sagebrush as an open enrollment area.”
Glendale Unified currently receives as much as $46 per assessed $100,000 in property taxes annually to pay for Measure S, a $270 million school bond passed in April 2011. If the Sagebrush area were to be transferred, GUSD would lose about $500 million in assessed value, amounting to 2% of its tax base and about $210,000 in property taxes each year.
Audience members at the La Cañada school board meeting, some of whom live in the Sagebrush area, expressed their concern at the prospect of having to remove their children from GUSD and broached worries of double paying for Measure S and La Cañada Unified taxes, in addition to a possible new parcel tax.
“I applaud you for seeking a parcel tax,” said parent Sandy Russell. “We don’t want to pay for both, though.”
Transfer effort began in June
The most recent request for the territory transfer, made by a citizens committee in June to the La Cañada Flintridge City Council, was followed by a supportive resolution from the council, then moved to the La Cañada school board, which also passed a resolution in favor of the transfer.
School board president Scott Tracy said officials are hoping negotiations lead to an orderly system of transfers to La Cañada and a permit process for Sagebrush families wanting to stay put.
He said La Cañada has offered to pay the GUSD $3 million to offset the loss of bond money raised through the voter-approve Measure S in 2011. In addition, La Cañada offered to pay the fair market value of a lot near Mountain Avenue Elementary School, which could be turned into park space.
GUSD stands to lose up to $2.6 million per-pupil state funding if students are transferred to another district; the larger the number, the larger the loss. Tracy said Glendale school officials asked for “additional remuneration” to compensate for this.
Court challenge may be in order
If Glendale and La Cañada cannot come to terms, Tracy said the city of La Cañada Flintridge is prepared to take the matter to the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Reorganization.
“That [compensation] would not be provided if the county committee process were pursued and we were victorious,” Tracy said.
Despite the rhetoric, Glendale school board member Greg Krikorian said dialogue between officials has been largely positive.
“My whole concern is the transfer and how we’re trying to protect our taxpayers,” he said, and hoped officials would avoid a “legal war” over the issue.
Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan said the matter would return to the Glendale school board during its next meeting in early November.
“We’re getting to a point where I do believe a decision will be made shortly,” he said.