State school superintendent to visit Merced on Wednesday

03/16/2014 5:20 PM

03/16/2014 7:45 PM

The state’s top education official is scheduled to visit Merced on Wednesday.

Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, is slated to appear at a public forum from 4:30 to 5:45 p.m. Wednesday in the Clark-Newbold Room of the Merced County Office of Education, 632 W. 13th St. The event is open to the public.

Tina Jung, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Education, said Torlakson has not visited Merced County since his appointment in January 2011. His day begins in Bakersfield and continues with stops in Earlimart, Fresno and Firebaugh before arriving in Merced.

The purpose of Torlakson’s visit is to learn how the drought is affecting families and school attendance.

Steve Gomes, county superintendent of schools, said Torlakson will be looking possible solutions to difficulties the drought is posing for education. “We’re excited to have the state superintendent of schools coming to Merced,” he said.

Scott Scambray, Merced Union High School District superintendent, plans to attend Wednesday’s forum. “I think it’s great he is taking an interest in the Valley,” he said. “Hopefully he will listen to what we have to say.”

The district is making plans for water conservation, shorter watering times and increasing water rates, Scambray said. It is not likely to know for four or five months if the drought is affecting students’ families. About 100 fewer students are expected in the next school year, he added.

RoseMary Parga Duran, superintendent of the Merced City School District, also plans to attend on Wednesday. She has heard Torlakson speak at state conferences of school superintendents but has never met him.

Duran said she met Torlakson’s predecessor, Jack O’Connell, when he came to Merced’s Don Stowell Elementary School about seven years ago. She had her picture taken with the superintendent, and they taught a lesson on farm labor leader Cesar Chavez at the school.

Board of Education member Susan Walsh said she is also looking forward to Torlakson being in Merced. “I am very excited about it,” she said. “I’m going to go to see what he has to say. It’s time he visited here.”

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