Study session to examine Merced schools’ facilities needs

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comDecember 1, 2013 

— Some important decisions loom for Merced City School District leaders and a meeting tonight may provide necessary information on how to pay for long-range facility needs.

The Board of Education’s study session begins at 6 p.m. in the district’s boardroom at 444 W. 23rd St., Canal Street entrance. The meeting is open to the public.

Board members and administrators may get their first look at a long-range facilities master plan report that has been in the works for more than a year. The report may help the board decide if it will seek a general obligation bond at either June or November elections next year.

“I’m pretty excited about it (the study session),” board member Susan Walsh said. “We clearly as elected board members need to look at all aspects and what to do with the money. We need to know two things: what the top priority needs are and what they will cost.”

Board member Gene Stamm said today’s study session will be very worthwhile and that the board needs to give direction on what needs to be done.

Stamm said the district is still compiling a list of needs for all of the schools and what to do if a bond passes or does not. A lot of decisions are predicated on boundary changes affecting sixth-graders.

“I want to see the total picture,” Stamm said.

Adam Cox, board president, also said he’s looking forward to the study session and getting to see in detail what each of the 17 campuses needs.

“I know what is needed will cost more than we can afford,” Cox said.

Board member Darrell Cherf said the study session will be a good time for questions.

“Study sessions are always good,” Cherf said. “They are a little more informal than a structured board meeting. We need as much information as we can get.”

Cherf said as many people as possible should be involved. He is hoping many questions will be answered at today’s session.

Last year, board members hired the Dolinka Group to advise them on a local course of action. The Irvine consulting firm has helped more than 250 school districts, community colleges and county schools offices plan and finance new school facilities.

At its last session, the board heard from a research firm that polled 400 likely voters. About 65 percent of those surveyed would support a general obligation bond to upgrade facilities at district schools, it was reported. Fifty-five percent voter approval is needed.

In the past year, a number of meetings have been held involving parents, staff members and community residents to discuss facility needs.

Superintendent RoseMary Parga Duran conceded the district has a number of aging schools and critical needs in technology upgrades and campus security.

Among the key questions is whether to build an elementary school in the underserved north Merced area or expand Rivera Middle School to include elementary grades.

Sun-Star staff writer Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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