Modesto City Schools will consider building more facilities at Enochs High using funds from the Mello-Roos tax on Village I homeowners.
The board decided to have its staff prepare a priority list of Enochs projects, cost estimates and financing options for consideration at an upcoming meeting. With future money tight and current building costs low, board members held onto hopes for adding a swimming pool and stadium.
Most Village I homeowners pay more than $390 a year in extra taxes, split between the Modesto City, Sylvan and Stanislaus Union school districts.
The Village I Mello-Roos school taxing district has collected nearly $52 million in extra property taxes, and it plans to continue taxing homeowners for an additional 27 years.
Whether all those taxes were appropriate is being questioned, based on a 1994 agreement that was supposed to limit how much Village I residents were obligated to pay for new schools.
The Building Industry Association of Central California has formally requested a comprehensive review of school financing and construction costs for the four Village I campuses -- Enochs High School, Savage Middle School, and Freedom and Sanders elementary schools.
Becky Meredith, director of planning and facilities support for the Modesto City Schools district, defended the level of Mello-Roos taxes homeowners now pay. Meredith said it was allowed by legal agreements and required by class-size reduction, which she called a state-mandated cost for the district.
By Meredith's calculations, the district may collect $103.5 million under the agreement: $52.7 million agreed to in 1994, adjusted upward each year by a 4 percent inflation factor, plus $1.7 million for land added to the original taxing district and $9 million to finance smaller class sizes.
Meredith said the district is copying documents requested by the Building Industry Association dating to the taxing authority's founding. Once the taxing agency was formed in 1994, she said, the Modesto and Sylvan districts were obligated to prepare for those students.
"In other words, it said go forth, school districts, and build your schools," Meredith said.
When the city of Modesto looked at forming a taxing district, she added, this joint powers agency "was held up as a model of appropriateness at that time."
That agency, the School Infrastructure Finance Agency, ruled last month that for the first time it would not raise the tax paid by Village I homeowners, and that it would seek an "exit strategy" to eventually end the extra tax.
Sylvan trustees voted last week to drop consideration of building another elementary school, ending what was a $14 million potential cost to Village I landowners.
The agency asked the Modesto board to make a determination of what else, if anything, might still be built at Enochs, Meredith said. "In order for SIFA to determine very soon if the special tax can be reduced," she said, "all projects must be finished."
She called Enochs "99 percent complete," but Trustee Steve Grenbeaux took issue with that.
"I would like to see some big-budget items. We could look at a pool. We could even look at a stadium," Grenbeaux said.
Union: Don't 'get railroaded'
Barney Hale of the Modesto Teachers Association told the board, "We supported the concept of a Mello-Roos in its inception. This is money you need to use for this."
He urged the board "to not get railroaded to some extent because of the articles in The Modesto Bee and other issues, and not throw the baby out with the bath water."
"You don't want to spend general fund monies on (building costs) ... I don't believe there are any other good funding options for the completion of Enochs," Hale said.
Bee staff writer Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2339.