Around Town: Sagebrush situation has created a two-tiered system

For the past 30 years, parents in the Sagebrush area, a residential band west of Palm Crest Elementary School, inside the city limits of La Cañada Flintridge, have sought to be included in the La Cañada Unified School District.

Right now, the Sagebrush is part of the Glendale Unified School District, but Sagebrush families can petition to have their children admitted into the LCUSD on an interdistrict transfer, not to exceed five years.

We now have a two-tier system. There are La Cañada residents who must go through a cumbersome process, with their permits always at the will of these two entities, the GUSD and the LCUSD. Other La Cañada residents do not have this process.

Some of the Sagebrush parents are unable to speak freely because they don’t want to rock the boat. We have a two-tier system where some parents feel free to criticize the district and others do not.

A few miles from here in L.A. Unified, parents engage in a complex magnet school and transfer application process, with points for getting accepted, points for not getting accepted and strategies that are impossible to understand without a doctorate in systems engineering.

We don’t want to emulate L.A. Unified. La Cañada can do better. Glendale can do better.

That’s why, in 2010, I challenged the La Cañada school board to set a five-year goal of merging the Sagebrush into the LCUSD (“One city. One School District,” Oct. 21, 2010).

Until we do this, we have a two-tier system that does not further our goals of community-based education, lower class sizes, effective teaching and great results.

The La Cañada school board needs to stick up for the Sagebrush families. For the past 30 years, the board has failed to champion the Sagebrush families. We’ve heard a lot of excuses. We’ve heard bureaucratic gobbledygook.

No more. LCUSD needs to take an active role. It needs to put money on the table.

Eventually, LCUSD will pay money to GUSD in order to settle this dispute. Twenty years ago, when parents asked the board to support them, the payout to GUSD would have been less.

Some will disagree with the following analogy. Last year the board authorized a $215,000 payout and five years of health benefits in exchange for the resignation of Gabrielle Leko, a La Cañada High School math teacher accused of using abusive language in the classroom and referring to a student as “Jew boy.” Some will argue that avoiding administrative legal fees in personnel issues has no relevance to the Sagebrush issue and that the multimillion-dollar price tag is out of our league.

On the other hand, unification of the district within the city boundaries will pay dividends in the future.

Maybe some of the Sagebrush parents should run for the GUSD school board! Squeaky wheel and all that?

GUSD needs to let go of these students, with one caveat. If Sagebrush families want to stay in GUSD, they should be permitted to do so. No more annual applications. No more politics. Just let the families do what is in the best interest of their kids.

The next La Cañada school board election is on Nov. 5. Sagebrush should be the top issue at all the candidate forums.

In a region with encroaching urbanism, La Cañada needs a unified culture. One city. One school district.

ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. Email her at anitasusan.brenner@yahoo.com.

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