Denair trustees to ask voters this fall to approve a $34.3 million bond

Only moments after approving a bare-bones budget for the 2024-25 school year, Denair Unified School District trustees decided Thursday night to ask voters to pass a $34.3 million bond measure that would provide much-needed money to modernize facilities, add classrooms, keep pace with technology and enhance security.

With minimal comment, trustees voted 5-0 to place the bond measure on the Nov. 5 ballot. To pass, 55% of voters must say yes.

A key factor that swayed trustees to go forward with the bond proposal is that – should it pass – it would not add to the property taxes landowners in the district already pay. That’s because the new bond would not take effect until Measure P – approved by voters in 2001 — is paid off in 2028. Like Measure P, the new bond would collect $100 for each $100,000 in assessed property value.

District officials stressed that the new bond would not be a new tax, but rather just an extension of the same tax community members have been paying for more than two decades.

In a survey taken in April, nearly 70% of potential voters in the district said they would support a school bond as long as it doesn’t raise current property tax rates.

Trustees have been discussing facilities needs and how to pay for them for more than a year. Some of Denair’s classrooms and other buildings are 50 to 70 years old. Their age – coupled with the expected growth in enrollment – makes it important that district leaders plan now for the future. The bond would give the district an identified funding stream to provide a match for school construction money from the state.

The money would be used to replace aging and leaking roofs; repair and upgrade classroom heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems; upgrade classrooms to support instruction in science, technology, engineering, and math; and improve school safety and security through security cameras, gates, fencing and security systems at all schools.

The bond proposal requires that a citizens’ oversight committee be formed to evaluate how the money is spent.

Earlier in the meeting, trustees approved a conservative $20.8 million budget for the next school year.  The plan anticipates spending about $800,000 less than the year before. For the first time since the COVID pandemic, the proposed budget contains no special one-time funds from the state or federal governments. That money will all have been spent by the end of the current fiscal year.

In other action Thursday, trustees:

  • Approved a new three-year Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), which has three distinct goals, all with multiple actions to implement. The first goal is that all Denair students will demonstrate skills that contribute to post-secondary success in the areas of technology, academics, social-emotional wellbeing, and life skills. The second goal says that by the end of the 2026-27 school year, an additional 20% of students will demonstrate, through local and state measures, authentic literacy (reading, writing and speaking) in all content areas, with an emphasis on math literacy (numeracy). The final goal says that 100% of Denair schools will be safe and positive school campuses, where all students can be successful.
  • Heard a report from Superintendent Terry Metzger on the district’s local indicators for the CA School Dashboard. Local indicators are reported annually, at the same time the LCAP is approved, and cover topics such as the condition of school facilities, implementation of standards, school climate and parental engagement. The district met standards for all local indicators.
  • Approved an overnight field trip July 31 to Aug. 2 for the Denair FFA Officer Team Leadership Retreat. Students and staff will spend two nights and three days planning and organizing the 2024-25 FFA Program of Activities. 

Summer school draws more than 200 Denair students

At Denair Elementary Charter Academy, summer school includes a different kind of academic focus in the morning and plenty of fun, enriching activities in the afternoon.

Next door at Denair Charter Academy, summer school is an important chance for high school students to earn required credits toward graduation in classes they didn’t pass in the school year just ended.

Either way, there is plenty happening in Denair classrooms during June.

On the elementary campus, there are 125 youngsters in transitional kindergarten through grade five. Some grade levels have as many as 20 students; others fewer than 10. There are also classes for students in the Dual Language Immersion program.

Priority for enrollment was given to elementary students identified by their teachers as needing additional help, especially in core academic subjects like math and English. And while it’s important that they receive that extra attention, no grades are given in summer school. The learning environment is no less serious, but there is a different methodology at work.

“We want to continue their learning, especially in reading and math,” explained Robert Moore, DECA’s learning director during the regular school year and principal this summer. “But we also include more engaging-type activities. We’re trying to lean away from paper and pencil and into more hands-on activities. We want to make students want to be here because we’re doing fun things.”

In DLI teacher Araceli Fernandez’s classroom of fourth- and fifth-graders, that means reading the same book in English and Spanish in the morning to improve comprehension in both languages, and then exercising their creative juices with an art project in the afternoon.

“It’s nice to do something interesting that makes them want to come back to school,” Fernandez said.

Though classes don’t begin until 8:30 a.m., many elementary students arrive at 7:30 to take advantage of the district’s Extended Learning Opportunities Program (ELOP), which lasts until 4:30 p.m. Free meals are provided daily for all students – breakfast before class begins, lunch at 11:30 a.m. and a mid-afternoon snack.

Also at DECA this year for the first time during summer school, 12 girls in fifth and sixth grades are able to take part in the ROX (Ruling Our eXperiences) program led by counselor Kara Binkley. ROX is intended to empower girls by teaching them how to handle conflict, create and manage better relationships, and think positively and differently about their futures. Binkley moves quickly through the curriculum, covering 20 key lessons in just 21 days.

At DCA, the learning atmosphere is decidedly more serious than what exists next door at DECA. That’s because – for many students – the ability to earn a high school diploma is literally on the line. Students who have failed classes must retake them to receive those all-important credits that will allow them to graduate.

“Students are strongly encouraged to attend,” said co-Principal Anajanzy Montoya. “If it gets to a point where they have too many courses to recover, that leads to a hard conversation between the (high school) counselor and the student and their families.”

There are two tracks toward credit recovery available at DCA. Both have roughly 40 students enrolled this summer.

The first is independent study – where the students do the bulk of their work at home on a computer and come to campus once a week to meet with their teacher. This is the path taken by students who attend DCA the rest of the year. They can choose from courses in math, English, careers, art, history, science, physical education and computer literacy.

The second option is cyber high, which requires students to physically come to campus five days a week from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. This is the favored alternative of students who attend Denair High and need to make up classes in math, English, health or social science. They typically take one intensive online course at a time. Once they pass the first, they move on to the next one.

In addition to the classes being held at DECA and DCA, 25 special education students also are taking part in the district’s Extended School Year program. The students work with the same teachers they have during the regular school year, and also enjoy community-based instruction opportunities and educational field trips throughout the summer program. 

School began May 29 and will be finished on June 26.

Legacy Health Endowment, Hello Alpha to Provide Free Virtual Healthcare in 3 California Counties

CALIFORNIA – In a groundbreaking initiative, Legacy Health Endowment is partnering with Hello Alpha, a leading national virtual healthcare provider, to introduce a no-cost telehealth program for individuals who live in southern Stanislaus County or northern Merced County.

Known as Sonja Cares, the program will offer free telehealth services for 1,500 local residents starting June 3, 2024, for one full year, with each participant eligible for up to 12 telehealth consultations. Services will encompass primary care, urgent care, women’s healthcare, and more. Sonja Cares will be accessible through smartphones, iPads, laptops, or computers, enabling communication via secure messages without the need for face-to-face interaction or high-speed internet connections.

Specially designed to meet the needs of “the forgotten middle,” Sonja Cares is an innovative solution for accessible, equitable healthcare. The forgotten middle is made up of individuals and families who don’t qualify for Medicaid (in California, Medi-Cal) yet face financial hardships with their healthcare. In a survey of the communities it serves, Legacy Health Endowment discovered that 8 out of 10 residents skipped or delayed seeking their own medical care or filling a prescription to make sure that a child, spouse, or partner could access healthcare services. Nearly half (48%) said that the cost of their annual deductible has had a large effect on their decisions about seeking healthcare.

Sonja Cares aims to ensure immediate access to medical providers for these overlooked communities. It will provide comprehensive care for more than 100 medical conditions and help address acute care needs before they escalate into chronic issues. Enrollment is open to adults who live in one of the 19 Zip codes within Legacy Health Endowment’s service area.

Staying true to the promise of being more affordable, prescriptions will be sent to Tower Pharmacy, where patients will be charged $2 for their medication. 

Jeffrey Lewis, President of Legacy Health Endowment, emphasized the importance of enhancing healthcare delivery by improving patient access, particularly for underserved insured and uninsured adults in Stanislaus and Merced counties. 

“Sonja Cares seeks to remove geographical barriers through telehealth and overcome the common tendency among adults to prioritize their children’s healthcare needs over their own, thereby jeopardizing their own health,” Lewis said.

Gloria Lau, founder and CEO of Hello Alpha, said telehealth can play a critical role to bridge gaps in healthcare accessibility by offering comprehensive primary care via messaging with no appointment necessary. Hello Alpha’s holistic approach to care — backed by dedicated primary care providers available 24/7 — aims to provide compassionate and quality healthcare without the inconvenience of appointments, travel, or waiting rooms.

“Getting compassionate, quality healthcare can be a pain,” Lau said. “The average wait time to see a primary care provider (PCP) in the U.S. is 26 days — and that’s if you have a PCP to begin with. That’s where Hello Alpha comes in. We offer truly accessible and comprehensive primary care via messaging, with no appointments needed. Whether a patient isn’t feeling well because of an urgent issue or they need care for an ongoing chronic condition, Hello Alpha takes a holistic approach to care with a dedicated PCP available 24/7.”

Telehealth technologies, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, have emerged as essential components of healthcare delivery, extending access to care around the clock. As Lewis emphasized, Sonja Cares seeks to level the healthcare playing field for agricultural and dairy workers and their families–as well as middle-income families and first-generation students–by offering them healthcare that isn’t limited by hours of operation or unpredictable costs.

Sonja Cares is named in honor of Sonja Ann Iltis, a Turlock resident and longtime volunteer at the Emanuel Cancer Center. She was a founding member of Emanuel’s Cancer Awareness Night Out committee. Iltis died of cancer in 2016.

About the partners: Legacy Health Endowment, a nonprofit based in Turlock, CA, is committed to improving the health of all residents in its service area by increasing access to healthcare services and promoting healthy lifestyle decisions. Hello Alpha provides comprehensive virtual primary care for women, eliminating barriers to healthcare through telehealth visits that empower patients to seek care at any time without the constraints of appointments or travel.