A proposed school district boundary line change that would send potential Denair Unified School District students to Turlock Unified School District schools instead was vehemently opposed by Denair residents, parents and students on Wednesday during a public hearing held by the Stanislaus County Committee on School District Organization.
“Stakes are high for Denair,” said DUSD Superintendent Aaron Rosander. “This will have a deleterious negative effect on our school district.”
The housing developer behind the proposal is Ronald Katakis of RBK Development, Inc., who requested 90 acres at the northwest corner of Tuolumne and Waring roads to construct 278 homes ranging from 2,500 square feet to 4,500 square feet. The property is less than a mile from the Denair schools complex and more than two miles away from Turlock High School.
TUSD Board of Trustee member Bob Weaver was one individual who voiced his opinion on the proposed boundary line change. Among other reasons, Weaver said that even though Denair schools are closer, the passage to these schools from the planned development will not be as safe as the passage to Turlock schools, which will have sidewalks, visible crosswalks and lights.
“Denair has no safe passage from this area to the schools for kids to walk or bike, they have to be driven by car or bus,” said Weaver. “If this area goes into Turlock, those parents can also petition to go to Denair if they’d like.”
Fairbanks Ranch LLC Manager Chris Hawke, who is a developer and one of the petitioners, backed up his position regarding the petition with the concept of “community identity.”
“We feel strongly that really the community identify here is with Turlock and the kids that are going to be moving into our development are going to associate themselves with Turlock,” said Hawke.
Hawke also made reference to a buffer zone, which is an area that is within City of Turlock boundaries, but also within Denair Unified School District boundaries. According to Hawke, nearly 160 kids who live in this buffer zone have petitioned for interdistrict transfers to attend Turlock schools.
“I think parents in those areas find that there is a stronger community identity and that’s why they want their kids to be going to those schools,” said Hawke. “They will want to associate themselves with the city that they are in.”
“Community identity was the most important reason for doing the petition,” added Hawke.
While Hawke said that “community identity” was the main reason for filing the petition, dairyman Ray Prock said that this territory transfer attempt is solely for financial gain.
“He wants this so he can get more money for his houses and make them easier to sell,” said Prock.
The assertion held by Prock that the petition was merely a ploy to increase property value was echoed by many people throughout the night, including Denair High School art teacher John Stavrianoudakis.
“It’s about money that’s either going to go to a school that has been waiting for this opportunity, we are dying to grow,” said Stavrianoudakis. “These boundary lines can help us, but now there is a petition to have that taken away.”
Denair High School student body president Alejandra Parada fought back tears as she stood before the committee to show her strong opposition to the proposed boundary change. Parada said that as a student who aspires to return to teach in Denair, she pleaded with the committee to leave the boundary lines as they are in order to allow DUSD to grow.
“It would be an amazing thing to come back not only as alumni, but also as a future educator, to see more programs like Turlock has,” said Parada.
TUSD Interim Superintendent Dana Salles Trevethan and Gil Ogden both attended the public hearing to speak before the committee on Wednesday; however, they both stated that they were neutral on the matter.
Trevethan described the task of providing first-rate quality programs and facilities as “problematic,” since many TUSD schools are impacted, particularly elementary school sites. As a result, the district must consider asking the community to pass a bond to fund additional facilities.
“Ongoing financial encroachments coupled with expectations to increase academic rigor, technology, dual immersion and stem programs remain a challenge at providing the very best educational experiences for students regardless of revenue generated from increased ADA,” said Trevethan.
“With no new funds allocated in the state budget for modernization and building of schools and facilities, our district has relied on general ed monies,” added Trevethan.
A total of 304 students in TUSD are currently interdistrict transfers from DUSD, according to Ogden, who is the individual responsible for processing interdistrict transfers on behalf of TUSD. Ogden said that he often has parents come into his office “in tears” because they purchased a home and were not made aware by their realtor at the time of purchase that the property belonged to DUSD.
“There is no more difficult a meeting than sitting across from a parent and telling them that although they spent their life savings on a house, they cannot send their child to a school of choice,” said Ogden.
Although the petition claims that the proposed territory transfer “will not cause a substantial negative effect on the fiscal status of the affected districts,” Rosander said that it could cost DUSD approximately $1 million in developer fees and about another $750,000 in annual state funding based on how many students would live in the new homes.
Rosander said that DUSD could also lose $8,000 per student that the state funds each school district. Using conservative estimates, Rosander said that if 90 to 100 students are expected to live in the first phase of new homes, they would generate upwards of $750,000 each school year.
Rosander said that DUSD has made significant sacrifices to regain fiscal solvency since it was threatened with a potential state takeover three years ago. Administrators, teachers and classified staff all accepted pay cuts between 8 percent and 11 percent as part of the District’s fiscal recovery plan. So far the plan has proved successful as DUSD is on track to finish with small budget surpluses the next two years.
“Small schools matter, rural schools count,” said Rosander. “In the end, this is truly about small schools that make a powerful, positive, long-lasting difference in the lives of children, the community, the state and the country.”
Stanislaus County Office of Education Superintendent Tom Changnon was required by State Education Code to form the committee in order to review the plan and make a recommendation regarding the changed boundary line. The committee has up to 120 days to vote for or against the transfer.