School administrators, trustees hopeful about Merced County education for 2014

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comDecember 31, 2013 

— Local school administrators and trustees are hopeful that 2014 will be a good year for education, even with major changes on the horizon.

Scott Scambray, Merced Union High School District superintendent, said the new year should be positive for the area’s schools. He said the district has done some great things over five years.

“When you look back over the last six to eight months,” Scambray said, “we are a heckuva lot better off financially than we were then. Still, there’s some uncertainty on how and where new money can be spent with the local control funding formula. We will figure it out. I look forward to the new year and we will keep plugging along. In the end I know we will do what’s best for the kids.”

RoseMary Parga Duran, Merced City School District superintendent, said she also is looking forward to 2014 and thinks the budget will look better.

“Looking back over the last five or six years, we’ve done a great job making sure the budget was on time and we took care of our employees,” she said. “I’m proud that we are student-centered. We kept the books in the black. The forecast looks good. It’s been a good year and I’m proud of our administration, teachers and staff.”

Steve Gomes, county superintendent of schools, said 2014 is shaping up well; he said this is a very exciting time in public education.

“This will be a year of transition for education as we adapt to a new funding system, a new accountability system and look to implement Common Core,” Gomes said. “It’s the right step to be taking for our students to be 21st century learners.”

Gomes said passage of Proposition 30 by voters in 2012 allowed educators to keep schools out of bankruptcy. He said educators are moving instruction programs to be more creative and collaborative.

Gene Stamm, a member of the Merced City School District Board of Education, said he is looking at the new year optimistically.

“There are a lot of good things on the horizon,” Stamm said. “2014 is going to be a very, very interesting year. Overall, 2013 worked out quite well and we stayed within budget.”

Stamm said students will have Chromebooks to use, and he hopes a school bond can be passed in June. The realigning of sixth-graders with elementary school students and limiting middle school to seventh- and eighth-graders, will keep the district from having to build another junior high school for quite a while.

Susan Walsh, also a Board of Education member, said she’s excited about 2014 prospects.

“I am so proud of the efforts our students and teachers made in the last year,” Walsh said. “Our teachers, administrators and staff showed we still care and will continue to do the best for the students entrusted to our care.”

She conceded the district will go through enormous changes, all directed at benefiting students.

Fellow city schools board member Adam Cox said the last half of 2013 was a good indication of what’s to come in 2014 and 2015, including new state funding and state testing.

“It’s definitely an exciting time in education,” Cox said. “I am looking forward to see what will happen.”

Will Snyder III, an MUHSD trustee, said the district will have some financial challenges to overcome.

“Until I see the checks in hand, I won’t get excited,” Snyder said, referring to forthcoming new rules dictating how state funds can be spent.

“I am very, very alert, cautious and conservative for the school district,” Snyder said. “Common Core can turn into a big disaster overnight.”

Snyder praised agricultural departments at Merced, Atwater and El Capitan high schools for their accomplishments.

At the neighboring McSwain Union School District between Merced and Atwater, Superintendent Stan Mollart said he is beginning to see an economic turnaround for the area.

“We’re always optimistic out here,” Mollart said. “Once we get our hands around Common Core it will be a good thing for students and teachers. It’s a challenging time, but there are good years ahead.”

At the Weaver Union School District, Superintendent John Curry said 2014 is full of possibilities and hope. but he conceded there is a little bit of nervousness and anxiousness about future developments.

Curry said the district is faced with new funding formulas and implementation of Common Core instructional practices in 2014. The Weaver district is starting work on modernizing the middle school and planning on building an elementary school.

Sun-Star staff writer Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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