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23-year-old elected president of Merced school board

Merced City School District Board of Education members Tuesday night elected a new president, extended the superintendent's contract, got a welcome mini-windfall and learned the district's warehouse may need shoring up.

The financial news was less rosy.

Adam Cox was elected board president for 2012 on a 3-1 vote with outgoing president Darrell Cherf dissenting and board member Gene Stamm abstaining. Cox, 23, was elected two years ago and said he looks forward to running smooth board meetings. Board member Jessica Kazakos was unanimously elected board clerk.

Cherf, board president for two years, said he doesn't think Cox is ready for the position. But he said he'll support Cox to the fullest extent.

Cox, a lifelong Mercedian and communications coordinator for the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce, said he was glad fellow board members Susan Walsh and Kazakos have confidence in him. "I have been interested in public service for a long time," Cox said. "I'm interested in the future of Merced."

Walsh said she's confident Cox can fulfill the role as board president and she had no interest in that role. She nominated Cox because he is young and she wants to encourage young leaders.

RoseMary Parga Duran, district superintendent, reported her annual board evaluation was positive and she received a year's extension on her contract. Hired as superintendent in June 2009, Duran's salary remains unchanged at $173,000 a year.

WLC Architects of Rancho Cucamonga, designer of the new gymnasium at Rivera Middle School, presented the board with a large cardboard check for $359,000 in savings realized during construction, which finished last fall.

Duran said she wants to have the check framed for display at the office and said the extra money will go back into the Measure S bond fund. She said every previous construction project she's aware of seemed to come in over budget and praised the architects, Assistant Superintendent Greg Spicer and others for working together to save money on the Rivera project.

The $5.5 million Rivera gym includes a $950,000 contribution from the city of Merced, $1.5 million from the state and about $3 million from Measure S bonds.

Cox said the Rivera project came in 6.9 percent under budget and the refund will go back into the bond fund and could be available for improvements at other schools.

Kris Cavallero, chief fiscal officer, told board members the district will be fine for the current fiscal year if state budget triggers aren't pulled.

Cavallero said the district budgeted for $3,043,000 in state cuts in the current fiscal year. By June when the current fiscal year ends, the district will be owed $19.4 million in deferred funds from the state and borrowed $10 million to maintain cash flow.

The board directed the hiring of Taylor Teter Architects at $13,000 to study the structural integrity of the main support beam at the district's warehouse on West 15th Street, which has several fractures.

Cox said he is concerned with the safety of district warehouse employees. He said there's a good chance the warehouse may be in the path of a future high-speed rail station for Merced and spending much money on it might not be a good idea.

Greg Blount, director of information technology and support services, told board members the district's average daily attendance is steady. Attendance at 14 schools has improved at least a quarter of a percent over the past four months, and some schools' enrollment rose a half-percent in that time.

Reporter Doane Yawger can reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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