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School Board: 'Put new tax before voters'
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The Ceres School Board voted Thursday to place a $60 million bond measure on the Nov. 4 ballot.

"I believe the citizens of Ceres support the youth of this community and will want to see this passed," said Eric Ingwerson, board trustee.

If the bond passes, it would pay for construction and renovation projects that address student safety and well-being, vocational training and instructional environment according to Ceres Unified School District officials. Matching funds from the state would also be provided to help pay for the upgrades.

"I think people see the value in what we're trying to accomplish here," said Jay Simmonds, director of educational options and spokesman for CUSD. "I haven't heard anybody who thought this was a bad idea. This is a win-win for everybody."

The bond issue, if passed, would cost property owners a maximum of $60 for every $100,000 of assessed valuation annually for not less than 30 years.

Nobody voiced opposition during last week's board meeting.

Police Chief Art de Werk said the measure would increase after-school space for tutoring, mentoring, and recreational programs, provide youth with safe places to go after school, and activities to keep kids off the streets, out of trouble and away from gangs and drugs.

"I fully endorse this," said deWerk. "It's exactly what a community like ours needs."

Ceres Unified instructors Ken Moncrief and Al Azevedo talked about the importance of having an up-to-date vocational education program.

"This 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," said Moncrief, an agriculture teacher at Central Valley High School.

"I have a vested interest in this because I'm working in that area," said Azevedo, an industrial technology teacher at Ceres High School. "I understand how important it is to give our students a well-rounded education. They have my complete support when it comes to this bond issue."

Tim Sanders, a longtime Ceres resident, chimed in as well. He was also a member of the ad hoc Blue Ribbon Committee that provided additional input and ensured that tough fiscal accountability was in place for the proposed measure.

"It's very exciting to me, especially the vocational-education part," 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."

To accommodate overcrowding at its two junior high schools, Ceres Unified would like to open a third one in August 2011 or 2012. Location will be on the east side of Ceres. The project will cost $40 to $50 million. The district's share would exceed $25 million.

"A smaller school allows teachers to have more one-on-one time with their students," said Mae Hensley Jr. High principal Lynda Maben. Blaker-Kinser Junior High Principal Debi Bukko also gave her stamp of approval.

Voters passed Measure J, a $25 million bond, in 2001 to help pay for the construction of Central Valley High School. The state matched the amount to complete the high school, then kicked in an additional $105 million to build five new elementary schools, enhance the campus of Ceres High School and modernize some of the district's aging schools.

"I don't think there's been a school in the district that has benefited more as a result of the last bond measure than us," CHS principal Bob Palous said. "It resulted in a new-found pride for the students."

No longer overcrowded, modernized Ceres High has seen its vandalism and disciplinary problems decrease, and average daily attendance (ADA) increase. Just 17 fights occurred on campus in 2007-08. Around 1,400 students were enrolled.

CUSD officials sought input from community leaders, parents, teachers and staff prior to bringing its bond measure plan to the Ceres School Board for approval.

Two independent surveys interviewing 900 people were conducted. Approximately 58 percent of the 400 polled in July were in favor of it.

The bond measure will require the support of at least 55 percent of voters.

California voters have supported a number of statewide and local bond measures to help build and maintain school facilities over the years.

Measure Q, a $464.5 million bond for Stockton Unified School District, received nearly 68 percent approval during the Feb. 5 election.

Measure C, a $20 million bond for Oakdale Joint Unified School District that was matched by the state, passed by a wide margin (69.5 percent) in November 2002.

Riverbank voters approved a $15.9 million bond that's paying for an elementary school, a second gymnasium at the high school and other improvements in 2005.

"What that tells me is communities understand that you have to have schools that meet the needs of their students," said Simmonds. "I believe Ceres will support this."

Ceres City Councilman Ken Lane added: "As a member of the Measure J oversight committee, I know that this measure is good not just for Ceres schools, but for our entire community. It qualifies Ceres schools for millions in state matching funds that would otherwise go elsewhere, creating hundreds of good-paying jobs, and stimulating the Ceres economy at a time when our residents and businesses are struggling."

Caswell Elementary School parent volunteer Conrado Castillo said: "This is something that is going to be good for the community. It's going to benefit our students. It's a big bond and it covers a lot."