Denair Superintendent, District Will Fight Developer’s Request to Change Boundary Line

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Submitted by Denair Unified School District

The Denair Unified School District will strongly oppose a proposal by a housing developer to redraw the district’s boundary to send future students to Turlock schools.

The proposal could cost the Denair district an estimated $1 million in developer fees and about $750,000 in annual state funding based on how many students would live in the new homes, Superintendent Aaron Rosander told the Board of Trustees at Thursday night’s meeting.

The boundary initiative is being pushed by Turlock housing developer Ronald Katakis. He wants 90 acres at the northwest corner of Tuolumne and Waring roads to be transferred from the Denair school district to the Turlock Unified School District.

Katakis sent a letter in September to Stanislaus County Superintendent Tom Changnon petitioning for the change. Under the State Education Code, Changnon was required to form a committee to review the plan and recommend for or against it. The 10-person panel of current and former school board members in Stanislaus County will hold hearings Oct. 28 in Denair and Turlock to take public comment.

Rosander said it’s critical that the Denair community defend the current boundary – which has been in place for decades – and the integrity of the district’s schools. He invited community members to a forum Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Coyote Center to learn more about the threat posed by the plan.

“If enacted, this transfer will cause deep and irreparable harm to Denair schools for many years to come,” Rosander wrote in letter sent Friday to committee members.

The property in question is about a half-mile from the Denair schools complex on Lester Avenue, but more than two miles away from Turlock High School.

Katakis’ development envisions 129 homes ranging from 2,500 square feet to 4,500 square feet to be constructed on 40 acres. Developers in Turlock are required to pay $3.36 per square foot to school districts to help offset the cost of constructing new facilities and hiring teachers for the new students. With an average home size of 3,000 square feet, the first phase of the neighborhood would generate $1 million in developer fees – and many times more if homes also are built on the remaining 50 acres.

Also at risk is the $8,000 per student that the state funds each school district. Rosander said conservative estimates show that 90 to 100 students could be expected to live in the first phase of new homes, generating $750,000 or more in so-called “average daily attendance” each school year.

Katakis’ petition claims the proposed territory transfer “will not cause a substantial negative effect on the fiscal status of the affected districts.” Rosander says that’s simply untrue, writing that the Denair district “will suffer devastating consequences.”

“The economy of scale between the districts is dramatic,” he told his board Thursday night. “$2 million for us and Turlock is not the same thing.”

In his letter to county committee members, Rosander acknowledges the district has worked hard to climb out a financial hole that nearly led to state takeover three years ago. Administrators, teachers and classified staff accepted pay cuts of 8% to 11% as part of Denair’s fiscal recovery plan, which has the district on track to finish with small budget surpluses the next two years.

“While fiscal progress has been made, the district’s budget remains fragile. Sadly, approval of the proposed transfer of territory would choke this progress and starve Denair schools of the growth and resources to which it is rightly entitled,” Rosander wrote.

In addition to the financial implications, Rosander’s letter says the proposal sets a bad precedent for future years and “artificially thwarts the natural growth and development of Denair schools.”

The county committee’s meetings will be held back-to-back on Oct. 28 – in Turlock at 5 p.m. and in Denair an hour later. Katakis is expected to outline his reasoning at the first meeting. Denair community members will be able to speak at the second, which could be moved from the board meeting room to the Coyote Center if there is a large crowd.

Once the hearings have occurred, the committee has up to 120 days to vote for or against the transfer – meaning a final decision may not be announced until after the first of the year.

Transfers of territory between districts are uncommon, but have cropped up before. Denair Trustee John Plett recalled Thursday night a plan in 1990 by another developer to move the Silverado Heights neighborhood off North Daubenberger Road from the Denair district to Turlock. That failed, he said, after an outpouring of opposition from the Denair community.

In other action, trustees:

  • Extended Rosander’s contract through June 2018. His 2015-16 salary of $128,547 reflects the same 8% pay reduction that teachers have taken. “He has our unwavering support,” Plett said. Added Trustee Robert Hodges: “We have a man of integrity. He’s in it for the long haul with us. … He has tremendous leadership.”
  • Heard a presentation from Changnon, the county superintendent, about his organization’s Destination Graduation program. It targets at-risk students – not just in high school, but also in lower grades – with the objective of creating more high school graduates. The county’s rate of 82.1% is slightly higher than the state average, Changnon said, but masks major problems among poor students and Latino boys, who graduate at far lower rates. “When I grew up, if you had a pulse and a high school diploma, you could get a job,” Changnon said. “Today? You need to have skills beyond a high school diploma. You need training.”
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