Looking ahead at facilities needs, Denair Unified trustees begin to think about how to pay for them

Three years ago, the Denair Unified School District hired a Bay Area company to help it create what is known as a facilities master plan, or FMP. It was intended to be a road map that would guide district officials as they weigh how Denair’s classrooms, kitchens, libraries and sports facilities can best complement the district’s core academic mission.

In the time since the FMP was developed, a few of the items on the list have been addressed, but most remain. In some cases, the long-term needs have only come into sharper focus and are likely to become more expensive as time goes by.

Thursday night, Denair’s Board of Trustees had an initial discussion of how they might pay for a range of building improvements that are estimated to cost up to $22 million. And though there is some construction-related money likely available from the state, most of it requires school districts like Denair to put up what are called matching funds. The only way to do that typically is through school bonds, when voters agree to raise money through assessments added to their property tax bills.

“It’s not realistic to think we could fund the 92 projects (on the FMP list) from the general fund,” Daisy Swearingen, the district’s chief business official, told trustees. The general fund is the day-to-day operating account that pays teacher salaries and pension donations, equipment, textbooks, utilities, regular maintenance and transportation costs.

Property owners in the Denair district currently are paying off two bond measures – Measure P, passed in 2001, and Measure K, passed in 2007. The earliest another bond measure could be put on a ballot is November 2024. Should it gain the required 55% support for passage, Swearingen said the 2001 bond would be paid off before the new bond would go into effect.

That potential timing of one bond going away as another began, district officials agreed, would be critical to convincing local voters to approve a new bond. Swearingen said that If the new bond was worth $22 million, the annual amount to repay it would be less than the Measure P bond. In other words, property tax bills would not go up.

“We could start educating now that that bond is going to drop off,” suggested Trustee Ray Prock Jr. “It might change some minds in favor.”

Much has to happen before any final decision about a new bond would be made next spring.

Thursday, trustees directed Superintendent Terry Metzger and her staff to review and prioritize the FMP developed in 2020 by Caldwell Flores Winters, an Emeryville firm that specials in school facilities projects. An updated FMP and estimated cost is due back to the board in January.

The next step would be a community survey taken by phone in April to gauge potential support for a new bond. The survey results would be reported to the board in May and discussed in public. A board vote to place a bond on the November 2024 ballot would come in June.

“We need to see what the updated FMP looks like and what the community thinks,” said Trustee Carmen Wilson.

The timing of the next steps is important, Metzger told trustees.

“If we don’t get on the 2024 ballot, we would have to wait until 2026 because bonds needing 55% (to pass) are only allowed in even years,” she said. “In odd years, the threshold is 67%. It’s a big difference.”

High on the list of facilities needs is modernizing the Denair Elementary Charter Academy campus, which was built in the 1940s. Metzger said the electrical wiring infrastructure needs to be replaced, old classrooms updated to handle new technology, the kitchen upgraded and the restrooms renovated.

Also in need of work are the gyms at DECA, Denair Middle School and Denair High School, and other athletic facilities including the football stadium. In addition, the district also is committed to making additional improvements to safety and security at all its campuses.

“I know the community is interested in seeing that our campuses are as secure as possible. That’s the No. 1 thing I hear,” Metzger said. 

In other action Thursday, trustees:

  • Heard a report from Anajanzy Montoya, the district’s English Language Development coordinator. There are 274 students in the district – including 131 at DECA – for whom English is a second language, she told trustees. The district develops a plan for each of them to help them progress through four stages of learning the language, become fully fluent and eventually get reclassified. Before any new student enrolls in the district, the family must complete a survey about whether other languages are spoken in their homes. For those who say “yes,” Montoya and her staff follow up with a home interview to assess the student’s English ability before he or she begins school.
  • Listened to an update on the district’s special education program from Amanda Silva, the director of special education and student support services. She said 148 of Denair’s 1,275 students – roughly 12% — are in the special ed program. Depending on their needs, special ed students can be in the general education track or in smaller classes that focus on teaching academic as well as social and life skills. Though the district prides itself on providing many services, Silva said a handful of more targeted services are delivered through contracts with the Stanislaus County Office of Education.
  • Heard an update about the Expanded Learning Opportunities Program (ELOP), which delivers additional tutoring to K-12 students before and after the regular school day at DECA, DMS and DHS. It begins at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 4:30 p.m. Much of the focus has been on math, Metzger said, but all subjects are covered. There are 160 ELOP students at DECA, 48 at DMS and 16 at DHS.
  • Heard a report on the new iReady tests, which replaced NWEA as the way students are evaluated on how they are doing in relation to state standards. Metzger said iReady includes a computer platform for skills development and practice that is more closely aligned to what is being taught in class and ultimately measured by state tests three times a year. The district’s principals talked to trustees about the first round of iReady results, which showed many of Denair’s students are two to three grade levels behind in core subjects like math, English and reading. Intervention programs – like ELOP – are in place across the district to help students catch up.
  • Approved a trip to Indianapolis Oct. 31 to Nov. 5 for the National FFA Leadership Convention for 10 Denair High FFA students, one ag adviser and one female chaperone. The district will pick up the $3,300 cost of registration for the students and teacher. The Ag Boosters to cover lodging, transportation and meals, and the FFA ASB to cover tours, entertainment and other group activities. 
  • Accepted a $124,272 CalSHAPE Plumbing Program grant for upgrades at Denair Middle School. The application included 36 interior faucets, four toilets and one urinal. These are units that are currently non-compliant plumbing fixtures that fail to meet water efficiency standards.
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