Amid Sagebrush talks, LCUSD revises student transfer process

Some students in La Cañada’s Sagebrush area whose parents work in the city will be allowed to attend school in the La Cañada Unified School District this fall, after officials agreed Thursday to change how they accept transfer applications.

The district is seeking legal advice to ensure the geographical distinction does not constitute an “arbitrary designation” for acceptance, something the California Education Code prohibits it from doing. Pending approval, all Sagebrush applicants whose parents work in town will receive acceptance priority over students whose parents work in La Cañada but live elsewhere.

Still ahead of them in priority are the children of full-time employees of the school district, the siblings of continuing permit students already enrolled and the children of part-time La Cañada Unified employees, in that order. All approvals are contingent upon the number of available openings.

The board’s decision came during a special meeting held in response to a Sagebrush parent’s plea two days earlier that his 6-year-old daughter be allowed to start kindergarten in La Cañada Unified.

John Womack and his wife work in La Cañada and may currently request a transfer under the Allen Bill, a part of the Education Code that allows permit students whose parents work in a town to transfer out of their home districts, in this case Glendale Unified School District.

Before Thursday’s decision, the Womacks were lumped together with La Cañada employees living in cities much further away and selected by a lottery system to fill vacancies.

“There are families who live in that section and work in La Cañada — I don’t see why we wouldn’t have priority,” Womack said.

Superintendent Wendy Sinnette and school board members sympathized with Womack’s situation Thursday as they discussed the precarious situation Sagebrush families find themselves in as LCUSD negotiates with Glendale Unified to annex that territory into La Cañada.

Previously, anticipating favorable results, La Cañada Unified offered to allow Sagebrush families in pre-determined grades who wished to transfer enrollment into the district in the 2014-15 school year.

But last month, when GUSD officials began to back away from an agreement, fearing the loss of attendance-related dollars and enrollment at Mountain Avenue Elementary School, La Cañada Unified withdrew that offer.

“We’re getting very close to the school year; that’s a pretty terrible situation to put these people in,” Vice President Andrew Blumenfeld said of the withdrawal.

After Thursday’s discussion, the board agreed to allow two applicants meeting both criteria — one kindergartner (Womack’s daughter) and one seventh-grader — to transfer this year. Members also agreed to rewrite board policy regarding the acceptance process, allowing all Sagebrush students whose parents work in town priority over La Cañada employees who live out of town.

Given the extenuating circumstances of this year’s process with the GUSD negotiations, for this school year, board members will consider Sagebrush Allen Bill families to be district residents, so their acceptance will not bump other applicants down the lottery ladder.

“If we can give some priority to these families as soon as possible it could relieve some duress,” said board member Kaitzer Puglia.

After the decision, one Sagebrush parent addressed the board.

“I’m Liz Johnson and I’m on your (transfer) list,” she said. “Thank you for wanting my first-grader. That’s it.”