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Future use of bond funds are questioned

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POSTED January 28, 2014 1:33 a.m.

The Manteca Unified School District gave up two smaller properties that were obtained for elementary school sites.

 In exchange for the 9-acre Union Ranch and 8-acre Tesoro sites, the district acquired a contiguous 17-acre parcel near the approved 1,651-home Trails of Manteca future development on South McKinley Avenue where it currently dead-ends at Woodward Avenue. The land swap was made with the developers of Union Ranch Partners.

Karen Pearsall does not see anything wrong with the property exchange. But where she has an issue is in what happens to the Measure M funds that augmented the money used to purchase the Union Ranch and Tesoro sites.

At the December meeting of the Measure M Citizen’s Oversight Committee, and after questioning the district’s legal counsel on the Measure M bond, Pearsall was under the understanding that after the land swap, the oversight committee does not have any more jurisdiction over the Tara Park property even if the district eventually decides to sell it. At that point, the committee would no longer have any say on what the district wants to do with the proceeds. And from that point on, the sale proceeds would cease to be Measure M and would no longer be subject to stipulations spelled out in the ballot bond approved by voters 10 years ago.

Pearsall, who was among the first members of the oversight committee, sees a lot of problems with that. For one thing, she points out, taxpayers voted for the $76 million Measure M bond with the understanding that the money would be used specifically for projects that were spelled out in the language of the measure and the ballot. These included upgrades of school buildings to bring them up to code or to make them safe.

She is also concerned that voters may not be as inclined to approve any future general bond measures in the future because of the issue of trust – the possibility that taxpayers’ money they voted for would not be used in the spirit it was originally intended.

Pearsall said the loophole in the use of Measure M funds was never explained to her and other committee members before.

Complaints from residents about what they described as the “Dust Bowl” Union Ranch property in their neighborhood on North Union Road was a big part of the reason the land swap was approved. The other big reason is the determination based on latest development plans in Manteca which shows that a new K-8 campus south of the Highway 120 Bypass will be needed in the near future.

The exchange provisions are contingent upon the City of Manteca approving the Tara school site and its zoning as such. Right now, the site is agricultural land. The agreement also gives Union Ranch Partners the responsibility of paying all costs incurred for dust and weed control.

According to school district reports, enrollment projections for the current school year will top 22,842 – 15,335 for the 20 elementary schools alone, and 7,507 for all the comprehensive school sites.

According to the latest reports in 2013, more than $35 million of the total bond proceeds went to four Lathrop projects. Among them: $23,261,426 for the construction of Lathrop High School in 2008; $10,401,228 for the completion of Mossdale Elementary School; $1 million for the construction of the Lathrop High gymnasium; and, $684,684 for the building of a new Lathrop Elementary gym.

The Board of Education meeting tonight starting at 7 o’clock offers an opportunity for those who have questions about Measure M funds and projects. A report on the Measure M Committee bond audit will be part of the superintendent’s report tonight.

The meeting will be held in the board room of the district office, 2271 West Louise Avenue, corner South Airport Way.

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