Community Members Learn How to Oppose Boundary Change

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Submitted by Denair Unified School District

More than 70 people turned out Thursday night to learn how they can fight a proposal by a Turlock home developer to redraw the Denair Unified School District’s boundaries. The initiative could cost the district more than $2 million in the first year and hundreds of thousands of dollars annually after that, Superintendent Aaron Rosander told the crowd.

“That is a game-changer, folks,” said Rosander.

The boundary initiative involves 169 homes to be built at the northwest corner of Tuolumne and Waring roads by developer Ronald Katakis. 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.

The land has always been within the Denair district, but Katakis petitioned the Stanislaus County Office of Education to move it to the Turlock Unified School District.

The county office formed a 10-person committee of current and former school board members to consider the change. The panel will hold back-to-back meetings on Wed., Oct. 28 in Turlock (5 p.m.) and Denair (6 p.m.) to hear public comment about the proposal.

Not surprisingly, the parents, students, staff members and Denair residents who showed up Thursday were unanimously against the idea. They listened as Rosander and a district attorney explained the financial and legal implications of the proposed boundary change, and then had a chance to ask questions.

Rosander assured the crowd that “I’m going to fight to the bloody end to make sure this boundary doesn’t get changed. We would argue this is not reasonable or proper. This is territory that belongs in the Denair Unified School District.”

The financial hit would be severe, he said. Developer fees – which are paid before construction begins — would amount to an estimated $1.4 million based on an estimated average of 3,000 square feet per new home in the first phase of Katakis’ development. The fee is $3.36 per square foot.

Developer fees help school districts offset the cost of constructing new facilities and hiring teachers for the new students.

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.

Combined, the $2 million in the first year represents about 22% of Denair’s $9 million annual budget, Rosander said. He compared that to Turlock, where the same amount is 1.5% of its $136 million budget.

“The economy of scale is vastly different,” he said. “With revenue comes more programs, comes more teachers, comes restoration of salaries. … When you have construction in your district, you should garner the revenue. It should go to our kids. It should go to our schools.”

The property in question is within the city limits of Turlock, which has grown to the east since school boundaries were drawn many decades ago. Rosander and members of the audience noted that students from other neighborhoods on Turlock’s eastern edge attend Denair schools. They also recalled that a similar boundary proposal failed in 1990.

Rosander called the plan a “bad precedent that could hurt us in the future.”

Attorney Chelsea Olson said the State Education Code uses enrollment as one of nine criteria the county committee must consider in these cases. “If a unified school district is less than 1,500, that counts a lot in the small district’s favor,” she said.

Denair has about 1,300 students; Turlock has about 14,000.

“Bigger doesn’t mean better, it never has,” said Rosander. “We’ve been saying for the past 18 months, ‘We’re the best private school that happens to be public.’

“I know the names of the kids who walk across the stage at graduation. I’m not disparaging my neighboring superintendent, but there’s no way she can know the names of 14,000 students.”

Rosander said there are many ways community members can oppose the boundary change:

  • Attend the meetings Oct. 28. The Denair meeting is set for the district’s board room, but could be moved to the Coyote Center across the street because of the anticipated turnout.
  • Speak up at the meeting. Each speaker is expected to have 3 minutes.
  • Write a letter to be read at the meeting. Rosander said people can send the letters to him and he’ll get them to the county committee.
  • Sign a petition that some community members say they intend to circulate.

The superintendent said passionate teachers who engage students in new and innovate ways are at the heart of the district’s educational mission. Missing out on the money needed to hire the right teachers and provide quality programs undermines that goal.

“Teachers and students, aren’t they center stage?” Rosander asked. “The rest of us are just supporting cast. We need to do the things to help kids prosper.”

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