Merced River Union Elementary District to ask voters for $1.8 million to upgrade Washington School

03/11/2014 6:40 PM

03/11/2014 7:50 PM

Trustees of a rural school district located between Winton and Snelling are hoping voters in June will support a $1.8 million bond measure to finance upgrades to one of its campuses.

Merced River Union Elementary School District has 157 students from kindergarten through eighth grade and is experiencing declining enrollment.

Helio Brasil, district superintendent, said a current school bond is coming to maturity; the June vote would extend the bond for 20 years. The cost to taxpayers would be $30 per $100,000 of assessed valuation.

“It’s definitely needed, not just something we want,” Trustee George Soares Sr. said. “It’s a good thing. The way funding has been, the timing’s good for a bond and will have the least impact to taxpayers.”

Soares’ son, George Soares Jr., also is a trustee. He concurs on the need for a bond.

“I think it’s the right step for the school to take,” Soares Jr. said. “It’s (Washington) an older campus that needs renovating so we can continue to make it top-of-the-line. There’s not that much funding for upgrades of school districts.”

Trustee Robert Gamble said the board is considering combining the Hopeton and Washington campuses, in view of the district’s declining enrollment. They voted to pursue the bond at their Feb. 10 meeting.

“It will be a good opportunity to make improvements,” Gamble said. “For a small country school we need to modernize and update facilities to make it a more comfortable environment to help with learning.”

It is believed Hopeton School was built before 1918, said district secretary Lorrie McDowell. Washington School, a single-story wood-framed structure, was built in 1914 but burned to the ground in a 1975 fire deemed to be arson. The replacement buildings were constructed 37 years ago.

The two schools joined to form the Merced River Union Elementary School District in July 1974, McDowell said.

Brasil said Washington School has 100 fourth- through eighth-grade students. It’s located 13 miles from Merced, off Highway 59 in the Winton area. Hopeton School has 57 kindergarten through third-grade pupils and is about 10 miles from Merced, in the Snelling area.

Trustee Lloyd Pareira Jr. said making improvements to infrastructure is in the best interest of students.

“It’s expensive to run two campuses,” Pareira said. “We are planning to consolidate the two campuses in 2015-2016. We need to improve the Washington site.”

Trustee Scot Sherman said the bond measure is needed for the consolidation. “No one needs more tax increases, but with declining enrollment it’s something we feel is necessary to improve our school,” he said.

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