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Taxpayers: $20 million misspent
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Did Manteca Unified misspend as much as $20 million worth of Weston Ranch Mello-Roos money?
That’s what a group of residents from the South Stockton community alleged on Tuesday night to the Manteca Unified Board of Education – claiming that money that was earmarked for projects in the community were used for everything from the district’s new administration complex to upgrades at the school farm.
And according to former Manteca Unified Trustee Dale Fritchen – who represented Weston Ranch for two terms – there are documents that prove all of it.
According to Fritchen, he uncovered the financial discrepancies while he was digging through district files to make a case that the Mello-Roos that was approved for the subdivision didn’t technically allow for the fund to pay for facilities upgrades like the proposed $2.3 million resurfacing of Weston Ranch High School’s football stadium. But when started to look at how much money was collected, how much the actual $30 million bond has been paid down, and how much money is left in the fund, Fritchen began to see where money from Manteca Unified Fund 77 – listed on documents as the Mello-Roos Fee – has gone to pay for a variety of other things in the district besides the narrowly-focused things that were listed on the original agreement.
One of the documents that he cited to the board during his five-minute term at the lectern during the public comment portion of the meeting showed that more than $3.2 million worth of Mello-Funds collected from Weston Ranch residents went towards paying for the district’s new administrative complex that was approved in 2007.
And he’s taking the matter to the voters.
To cap off his time, Fritchen notified the board that he would be gathering the necessary signatures to force a Proposition 218 vote about the matter, and listed six very distinct requirements that will be listed on the legal paperwork that will require less than 100 signatures from residents to qualify for the ballot:
The money in the fund could only be used for legally required bond payments.
The Mello-Roos fund would have a sunset clause that goes into effect when the bond is paid off.
No new construction or upgrades would be allowed.
Any surplus money that comes after bond payments are made will be refunded to the homeowners of Weston Ranch to the tune of $250 per household.
The remaining surplus would be applied to the bond itself.
That the money that was improperly spent on items not listed on the original Mello-Roos document – which limited upgrades dependent upon a growing student body at only August Knodt, Great Valley and George Komure Elementary Schools as well as Weston Ranch High School – be returned to Fund 77 in whole.
Nobody from the board or the district responded to the comments of Fritchen or anybody else from the small group of homeowners who waited three hours to air their grievances – some of them sternly.
“Some of us began digging and Manteca Unified School District has stolen more than $20 million worth of our money,” David Jackson said. “We want our money back, and we’re coming for it so you better be ready.”
Fritchen said that he couldn’t comment on specifics, but he has been in contact with various legal entities to pursue the matter and others have expressed interest in taking up the case as well.
The issue, he says, centers on the interpretation of the original Mello-Roos agreement and what that money was specifically intended to be used for. According to everything he has found, none of that money was ever meant to be spent on upgraded facilities, and definitely not for anything outside of Weston Ranch.
How this accusation will affect the push by some on the board to move forward with the stadium renovation remains to be seen. The formal decision to spend the roughly $2.3 million needed for the artificial turf field and all-weather track has yet to come by the board.
After meeting with Manteca High School and East Union High School for a study session last week to discuss the same topic, the board will next hear from Sierra High School and Lathrop High School to get their input on the matter for their respective sites.