Cannella and Gray came through for severely handicapped students

June 4, 2014 

In 2010, the state School Allocation Board gave the Merced County Office of Education unfunded approval to build a 5,000-square-foot facility for severely handicapped students in cooperation with the Merced City School District on the Joe Stefani Campus.

MCOE often collaborates with school districts to locate facilities on school sites to serve special education students from the area. It is a more efficient use of taxpayer money.

During the next three years, a combination of bureaucratic red tape, California’s lack of cash and procedural missteps navigating through a complex process resulted in the project’s removal from the funded list and placed it at the end of the line. School facility projects at the end of the funding line can wait 40 to 60 years to be funded.

MCOE appealed the SAB’s decision and enlisted the help of state Sen. Anthony Cannella and Assemblyman Adam Gray to help convince at least six members of the allocation board that the project had not changed and should remain on the funded list.

Gray, Cannella and their staffs worked tirelessly on this effort and were outstanding in working with members of the committee. On one of the busiest days in the Legislature, Gray and Cannella gave us their time and effort, and the board saw it our way and approved the appeal. This was a major event since the board seldom approves appeals.

Merced County Office of Education, in concert with the Merced City Schools, will build the facility in the next year.

Once the facility is completed, medically fragile students will not have to ride a bus as long or far and will have a new physical therapy room and classroom to meet their physical and educational needs. These students will be able to interact with non-handicapped students, which is a benefit to both groups.

This $2 million project will bring construction jobs to Merced County’s economy and is 100 percent financed by state bond money; no local bond funds will be used. Paul Speed, MCOE’s director of facilities, Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of schools, and Jack O’Connell, retired state superintendent of schools, all played large roles in this accomplishment.

Many people have a very low opinion of those who work in government, and amid all the scandals in the Legislature it is no wonder. However, that is not the case with Sen. Cannella and Assemblyman Gray. They work in tandem and across party lines to forward Merced County’s best interests. They are men of integrity and I am proud to serve the public with them.

Gomes is Merced County superintendent of schools

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