After months of anticipation, the gymnasium at Denair Middle School erupted in applause following the Committee of School District Organization’s decision to reject a Turlock housing developer’s petition to redraw the boundary line between Denair Unified School District and Turlock Unified School District.
“I am ecstatic. This is great for Denair schools,” said DUSD Superintendent Aaron Rosander following the Committee’s decision. “I am really excited, but not surprised. We did our homework and we knew our facts, so I trusted that they would vote accordingly.”
Prior to announcing the Committee of School District Organization’s decision, Stanislaus County Office of Education attorney Chet Quaide said that in order to grant the petition, a number of conditions set forth in Education Code 35753 must be substantially met. Of the ten requirements, three were not.
Quaide said in regards to the condition that the reorganized districts must be adequate in terms of number of pupils enrolled, the Committee referenced to California Basic Educational Data System numbers that revealed that DUSD currently enrolls 1,237 students, which is less than the guideline set by the California Code of Regulations of 1,501 students in a unified district. TUSD enrolls 13,950 students.
“The Committee could consider the loss of student growth to DUSD as a factor in finding that this condition was not substantially met since it is likely that the growth generated by new residential development would assist DUSD in approaching the goal of 1,501 student enrollment,” the findings stated.
Another one of the conditions that was not met revolved around the petitioners’ main argument of fostering substantial community identity by transferring the territory to TUSD. Findings presented before the Committee revealed that the geography, social center, and the school center aspects would actually favor Denair High School, which is about one-half mile from the proposed development, and DUSD for the proposed territory.
The last condition that was not substantially met was if the proposed reorganization was primarily designed for purposes other than to significantly increase property value.
“If the transfer of property were to occur, the homes would sell from between $5 to $7 a square foot more than if they remain in the Denair school district,” said Quaide. “Resulting in almost 2,300 square foot that would be an increase in price of $12,000 to $15,000.”
Ronald Katakis of RBK Development filed a petition in August with Stanislaus County Superintendent of Schools Tom Changnon to transfer four parcels, approximately 92 acres, of uninhabited territory in DUSD to TUSD. Katakis was approved by the City of Turlock to build 189 home sites, with up to approximately 264 total planned single-family homes, on the properties consistent with the City’s East Tuolumne Master Plan, which was originally adopted in December 2005.
Although the petition claimed that the proposed territory transfer “will not cause a substantial negative effect on the fiscal status of the affected districts,” Rosander said in October that it could cost the District 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.
Denair High School sophomore Hollie Collins was one person who stood before the Committee on Wednesday to voice her strong opposition to the proposed transfer. As she fought back tears, Collins said that the petition endangered the education of all current and future DUSD students.
“As you can see, we’re people who really care about our community and I would be absolutely devastated to see it go down any more than people have tried to tear it down,” said Collins following the Committee’s decision. “This was exactly what was needed; there is no argument about it.”
While many opponents of the petition believed that main motivator behind the proposal was to increase property value, Fairbanks Ranch LLC Manager Chris Hawke, who is a developer and one of the petitioners, said that assumption just was not true.
“It is simply that we believe that the children that live in the city go to the schools in that city,” said Hawke. “Our reason for this is simply because we believe that the future children in our community are going to identify with that community being Turlock and not Denair.”
In order to prove his point, Hawke said that this was not the first time he had appeared before the Committee for a proposed boundary line change. Approximately five years ago when he was working on another development in Delhi that was encumbered in TUSD, he petitioned to have the territory transferred to Delhi Unified School District because he believed it was more important for the future children in the development to attend Delhi schools because they associate themselves with the Delhi community.
“If you looked at that time, many people thought that the Turlock school district was a better school district and the values would be higher if we stayed in the Turlock school district, but we elected not to do that,” said Hawke. “We pursued and we went all the way to the state because we felt strongly that the children in the community in which they reside should be going to the schools in that community.
“It had nothing to do with the financial aspect. If it did, we would have left them in Turlock,” continued Hawke.
The Journal reached out to Katakis, who declined to make a comment.