The California State Board of Education recently rejected an appeal which essentially lays the ground for the Sagebrush territory transfer to the La Cañada Unified School District from the Glendale Unified School District, resolving a more than six-decade jurisdiction dispute over students in the westernmost territory of La Cañada Flintridge.
“I want to thank our students, families, educators, staff and community partners who have supported our efforts over the past several decades to keep Sagebrush part of GUSD for as long as possible,” said Superintendent Darneika Watson in an email to the Glendale community. “Although we are disappointed with the result, we can take some consolation in the fact that we have finally reached a permanent resolution and can focus entirely on what is most important — providing GUSD students with an exceptional education.”
A petition for the territory transfer was first introduced in 1961, and as years passed, more petitions were proposed, but none came to fruition.
In 2016, a fourth petition was filed by UniteLCF!, a coalition of residents living in the Sagebrush area.
The Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization voted to preliminarily approve the territory transfer and ordered a CEQA review. The CEQA report was then approved in 2019, and the L.A. County Committee voted to approve the transfer petition signed by more than 750 Sagebrush residents, which was then appealed by GUSD for various reasons that included loss of minority students, negative impact on English learners and DEI initiatives.
After years of delay due to the pandemic, the California State Board of Education denied GUSD’s appeal, approving the territory transfer for LCUSD in its meeting last week pending a vote on the matter.
The voting area, however, will be limited to only those affected residents living in Sagebrush, instead of including all of Glendale and LCF voters, the Board of Education decided on Jan. 18.
Conditions were discussed within the state’s board meeting that could make an impact on both school districts, like facility impacts, racial makeup, funding and revenue. Since the majority of students residing in the Sagebrush territory — 268 out of 350 — attend LCUSD schools, there were no outstanding impacts to either district, the board said.
Community members attended the meeting in Sacramento in person and also called in to express opinions on the transfer. Though the LCF representation was numerous, Glendale also had some key contenders there, like GUSD Board President Jennifer Freemon, GUSD Clerk Ingrid Gunnell, Watson and Crescenta Valley High School Principal Christine Benitez.
“By keeping the Sagebrush territory part of GUSD as long as we did, we were able to gradually put mitigation strategies in place to ensure the transfer would not disrupt enrollment, budget or operations at Mountain Avenue Elementary, Rosemont Middle or Crescenta Valley High School,” said Watson. “With that, we do not foresee any impact on the educational program at any of these schools.”
Chair of UniteLCF!, Tom Smith, was in attendance at the meeting and said he was elated with the outcome.
“The case from the very beginning has always been that the Sagebrush neighborhood, the school district and the city of La Cañada really all came together with a common recognition that this transfer would be good for the community as a whole,” said Smith.
“It’s been a very long slog, but, in the end, we finally achieved something that this community has sought for 50-plus years, so it was a huge victory for us,” he added.
Widely seen as a win for LCUSD, the transfer will not be official until voters in Sagebrush decide on the matter, according to LCUSD Superintendent Wendy Sinnette.
The earliest that the measure would go to vote is in November of this year, she said, adding that for the 2024-25 school year, Sagebrush students will still apply to LCUSD via permit. There are about 800 parcels in the Sagebrush Territory, according to Sinnette.
“If the Sagebrush citizens vote to transfer to LCUSD, then the Sagebrush Territory, as a part of the city of La Cañada Flintridge, will be transferred to LCUSD and the territory will be part of the LCUSD boundaries,” Sinnette told the Glendale News-Press.
In her email to the Glendale community, Watson added that LCUSD officials confirmed they will grant lifetime releases for Sagebrush residents who choose to attend GUSD schools.
“We are thrilled that you have chosen our district and assure you that you will always have a place in our GUSD community,” said Watson. “… Sagebrush residents will always be welcome to take advantage of the fantastic programs we offer here at GUSD.”
First published in the January 27 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.