A years-long boundary dispute between Denair Unified School District and Turlock Unified School District came to a close this week thanks to a unanimous decision from the California State Board of Education.
The saga began in 2015, when a Turlock housing developer proposed redrawing the boundary line between the two neighboring school districts. Ronald Katakis of RBK Development, Inc., requested 90 acres at the northwest corner of Tuolumne and Waring roads to construct around 200 homes ranging from 2,500 square feet to 4,500 square feet. The transfer was requested in order to allow City of Turlock residents to attend TUSD schools.
The property is less than a mile from Denair schools and more than two miles away from Turlock High School and both DUSD and TUSD had stakes in the boundary change. Under Katakis’ proposed transfer of territory, the new boundary line would see potential Denair students living in the homes go to TUSD schools instead. The first phase of the neighborhood will produce $1 million or more in developer fees when new homes are built on the currently vacant property, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in state funding based upon student enrollment.
Public hearings were held in the fall of 2015, and a County commission unanimously voted in February 2016 to keep the property within DUSD. TUSD appealed the decision, which was finally heard Wednesday by the 10-member State Board in Sacramento.
The hearing saw the State Board side with DUSD, who, according to DUSD Superintendent Terry Metzger, seemed reluctant to overturn the local, unanimous decision from 2016.
“We’re thrilled,” Metzger said.
She spoke at Wednesday’s hearing along with DUSD Trustees Kathi Dunham-Filson and Ray Prock Jr., as well as the district’s legal counsel.
“We explained the financial significance,” Metzger said.
If the State Board had decided to move the boundary line, DUSD would have lost out on about $980,000, Metzger added — six percent of the district’s $15.3 million budget, compared to one percent of the TUSD budget.
Metzger also said State trustees were wary of setting a precedent that favored a large school district over a smaller one. Turlock has more than 14,200 students, while Denair has 1,295. The California Department of Education’s report found that DUSD enrollment has been below State-established levels since 2013. The future housing development would produce around 96 enrolled students according to the CDE (DUSD projects around 215 students, while TUSD estimated 49).
The California Department of Education stated that it found “no compelling educational reasons” to overturn the unanimous decision of the County commission, despite TUSD citing hundreds of interdistrict transfer requests — many from Denair — from students looking to participate in the district’s “rigorous and unique academic and athletic program offerings.” TUSD also argued that developer fees could help the district fund future projects at school sites.
“Obviously we are disappointed in the outcome of our appeal, as evidence suggests the majority of students generated by this development will attend Turlock schools; we continue to believe the developer fees should follow those students,” TUSD said in a statement to the Journal. “However, we accept the State Board of Education’s decision and look forward to continuing our positive relationship with Denair Unified School District in educating our region’s youth.”