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Measure U far-reaching
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The Ceres City Council has gone on record in support of the Ceres Unified School District bond measure before voters on Nov. 4.

Councilmen unanimously approved a resolution of support Aug. 11 after Mayor Anthony Cannella asked questions about Measure U. He specifically wanted to know who is eligible to vote and seemed surprised when told that all voters - not just property owners - get to vote.

He learned, too, that the measure must earn a minimum of a 55 percent majority for passage rather than the standard two-thirds majority.

If approved, Measure U would allow CUSD to issue $60 million in bonds to upgrade all Ceres schools and designate $25 million for a third junior high school. Matching funds from the state would also be provided to help pay for the upgrades.

The measure would place an assessment of up to $60 for every $100,000 of assessed valuation annually for 30 years. Property owners within CUSD already pay $30 per $100,000 for Measure J, passed in 2001 for construction of Central Valley High School. If the new bond measure passes, a property with an assessed valuation of $200,000 would be assessed by another $120 per year.

The measure would allow all five recently built schools - Sinclear, Berryhill, La Rosa, Adkison, and Hidahl - to receive a library/computer lab/ classroom complex. The feature wasn't built originally because CUSD didn't have enough money.

Measure U would also allow CUSD to replace aging portable classrooms and upgrade bathroom facilities at the older schools.

"We have 4,000 kids housed in aging portables," said CUSD Supt. Walt Hanline. "Our big thing is we have bathroom issues, restroom issues that we need to address on the older campuses. We've got buildings that are deteriorating. We've got to get that done."

CUSD officials will be concentrating on two aspects of Measure U: improving vocational education at Ceres High School and adding a third junior high schools to avoid overcrowding.

Hanline said the revamping of the vocational education facilities is necessary to prepare students who are not college bound for the real work world.

"We need a 20th century vocational education program not a 1950 vocational education program," said Hanline.

Ceres teacher Al Azevedo said that an up-to-date vocational education program "will provide all students - whether or not they are college bound - with the resources they need to stay in school, graduate, and get good paying jobs."

A big chunk of the bond funds would pay for $25 million of a $30 million junior high school somewhere on the east side of Ceres. A new school would allow the existing two junior schools to stay at a manageable side. CUSD would like to open a third junior high in August 2011 or 2012.

"The message is that smaller schools allow kids to stay connected, particularly at the junior high level," said Hanline. "If you warehouse kids they become numbers and become disconnected."

Mae Hensley Jr. High principal Lynda Maben agrees, saying "a smaller school allows teachers to have more one-on-one time with their students.

CUSD officials would like to keep the junior highs between 650 and 850. Both Mae Hensley and Blaker Kinser are at 900. Those numbers will only climb as Ceres grows, he said.

The bond measure is also a leverage game with the state, said Hanline. Like in the case of Measure J, the state will kick in millions since Ceres would be eligible for matching and hardship funds.

"We can spin the $60 million into $25 million," said Hanline. "You can say this is a $125 million economic stimulus package for Ceres to create lots of construction and other jobs."

Hanline is downplaying the possibility that the state would send $17.3 million in hardship money for a new 34-classroom elementary school since the law may change.

"It's going to be kind of an icing on the cake if we can do it," he said. "It's not going to come out of local taxpayers' money."

CUSD Assistant Superintendent Scott Siegel said the district would need a new elementary school within the next three to four years if growth does not slow.

CHS would also receive a $3.8 million 8-classroom wing and replacement of portables. The interior of the small gym and the Doghouse structures would be rehabilitated.

Measure U would also help pay for a $10.5 million 16-classroom wing at Central Valley High School. CUSD would like to have the new wing completed for the 2010 school year. The new building will house 400 students.

Most of the schools would see a replacement of older portable classrooms with more permanent modular classrooms. Hanline said that the modular classrooms would look like permanent buildings and set on concrete pads and have a life of 80 to 100 years.

CUSD officials are optimistic that the measure will pass despite the economic times. The School Board proceeded with the election after learning two independent surveys indicated approximately 58 percent were in favor of it. The phone survey was taken in July.

Tim Sanders, a member of the ad hoc Blue Ribbon Committee that provided additional input on the proposed measure, said the selling point is an improved vocational education program. Sanders said "it will help (the district's) dropout rate. If students go through the program and graduate, good jobs will be waiting for them.

"I know economic times are hard, but it's something that really needs to be done. We need to keep moving forward. We can't stick our heads in the sand. If we do, someone else will get the money."

Hanline said if the voters reject Measure U, no hardship monies will be forthcoming from the state.