Education

Denair bests Turlock in fight over which district gets students from new development

A housing lot on East Tuolumne Road in Turlock, Calif., is pictured. The California State Board of Education unanimously sided with the Denair Unified School District on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019, in a boundary dispute involving the neighboring Turlock school district.
A housing lot on East Tuolumne Road in Turlock, Calif., is pictured. The California State Board of Education unanimously sided with the Denair Unified School District on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019, in a boundary dispute involving the neighboring Turlock school district. Denair Unified School District

The California State Board of Education unanimously sided with the Denair Unified School District on Wednesday in a boundary dispute involving the neighboring Turlock school district.

The issue dates to 2015, when developer Ron Katakis petitioned the Stanislaus County Office of Education to transfer about 91 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.

Public hearings were held in the fall of 2015 and a county commission unanimously voted in February 2016 to keep the property within the Denair district. Turlock appealed the decision, which finally was heard Wednesday in Sacramento by the 10-member State Board.

“We’re thrilled,” said Denair Superintendent Terry Metzger, who spoke at the hearing along with Trustees Kathi Dunham-Filson and Ray Prock Jr., as well as the district’s legal counsel.

Two officials from the Turlock district also spoke.

The boundary dispute has major financial implications, especially for Denair. The district stands to 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.

“We explained the financial significance,” Metzger said. “We estimate it’s about $980,000 a year. That’s 6 percent of Denair’s $15.3 million budget. It’s six-tenths of 1 percent of Turlock’s $162 million budget.”

Metzger said state trustees also seemed reluctant to overturn a unanimous local decision or set a precedent that favored a larger school district over a smaller one. Turlock has more than 14,200 students, while Denair has 1,295.

The Stanislaus County Committee on School District Organization weighed nine factors required by the State Education Code before voting 9-0 in February 2016 to deny Katakis’ petition. Turlock appealed the county decision in March 2016. The matter has been waiting to be heard at the state level since then.

The State Board’s staff recommended denial of Turlock’s appeal, saying, “The California Department of Education finds that there are no compelling educational reasons to overturn the unanimous action of the county committee to disapprove the proposal to transfer territory from the Denair USD to the Turlock USD.”

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