Despite a unanimous local ruling last month in favor of the Denair Unified School District, a boundary dispute involving the neighboring Turlock school district will be decided by state officials.
At issue is which district will receive $1 million or more in developer fees when news home are built on the currently vacant property, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in state funding based upon student enrollment.
The matter appeared settled Feb. 17 when the Stanislaus County Commission on School District reorganization voted 10-0 to deny a petition by developer Ron Katakis to transfer about 92 acres from the Denair district to the Turlock Unified School District. Katakis envisions nearly 300 homes at the northwest corner of Tuolumne and Waring roads, which has been in the Denair district since the boundary lines were drawn many decades ago.
Katakis had five days from the decision to appeal, which he declined to do. The Turlock district had 30 days.
During public hearings last fall and in February, the Turlock school board took no formal position on the petition, though two of its members spoke in favor of it. That changed early Friday morning at a special meeting where Turlock trustees voted to pursue an appeal.
Denair Superintendent Aaron Rosander said he was disappointed by the Turlock board’s decision.
“Last month, the County Committee on School District Reorganization correctly denied the petition by a local developer to transfer this land. … I believe it is time we agree that this matter is rightfully closed and to turn our focus fully and completely on education itself,” Rosander said. “I’ve no doubt that Denair schools and Turlock Unified can harmoniously and effectively operate our districts side by side as the boundary stands, and I look forward to doing just that.”
The county committee weighed nine factors required by the State Education Code in reaching its conclusion. Ultimately, it decided the petition failed on three critical counts:
- Denair has 1,293 students; Turlock has more than 14,000. Districts with less than 1,501 students are protected by the guidelines governing boundary changes.
- Community identity. Katakis contends that people in the new neighborhood are likely to identify more with Turlock than Denair because the land is within the Turlock city limit. But county attorney Chet Quaide said in February that “geography matters.” Denair schools are a half-mile from the proposed development; the nearest Turlock school is two miles away. Quaide also called Denair High School the “social center” of the community.
- Property values. The state expressly forbids boundaries to be changed because of the belief that homes will be worth more in one district than another. Before the February decision, Quaide cited a report from a local real estate expert suggesting the future homes would be worth $5 to $7 per square foot more in the Turlock district than Denair. That could raise their prices $10,000 to $12,000.
Under the State Education Code, Turlock has 15 days after announcing it will appeal to provide “a statement of reasons and factual evidence” to the county committee. The county panel then has another 15 days to send all records of the public hearings and its findings to the State Education Board.
The State Board, in turn, may elect to administratively deny or uphold the appeal, or hold additional public hearings before making a decision.