The two districts had their first joint meeting Thursday night to discuss Lammersville’s plans to completely break away from Tracy Unified. Lammersville, the only school district in Mountain House, plans to unify and open its first high school by 2013.
However, to move forward with that, Tracy Unified Superintendent Jim Franco said that it needs his district’s approval.
“We’re continuing to take action that’s in the best interest of Tracy Unified,” Franco said. “Things are working, in our opinion, educationally, just fine.”
Addison Covert, the attorney hired by Tracy Unified, said that Lammersville and its 1,773 students could still break away without the Tracy board’s permission, but going through an arbitrator might get messy. Shane Nielson, Lammersville school board’s president, said that his district didn’t want to go down that road and stir up bad blood with Tracy Unified.
For Tracy Unified, the proposed split would mean lower enrollment and less money from the state, as those high school students would stay in Lammersville . Tracy Unified receives $6,131.80 per kindergarten-through-12th-grade student. For Lammersville, it also would mean fostering a sense of community and independence in Mountain House.
Throughout the meeting, Lammersville officials remained optimistic that they would be able to carry out their plans.
“There’s a lot of talk among residents that this is going to happen, one way or another,” Lammersville board member James Hiramoto said. “It’s an integral part of our community.”
Some Tracy Unified board members wondered whether Lammersville could afford to build the high school. Lammersville Superintendent Dale Hansen estimated in March that the school would cost between $70 million and $80 million. Lammersville has $13 million saved in developer fees that could be used for a high school.
Citing the widespread news of foreclosures in Mountain House, Tracy Unified board member Bill Swenson questioned whether or not Lammersville could afford to maintain a high school.
“If the economy stays soft, you’ve only got $13 million to work with, how are you going to fund (this)?” Swenson said. “The rumors around Tracy are (foreclosures) are high in Mountain House. If in fact that’s true, you folks don’t have enough money to get close to finishing phase one.”
Garrett Gibbs, who represented Shea Homes, one of the biggest developers in Mountain House, said that the high school would be paid for primarily with developers’ fees. He said the fees would account for between $55 million and $65 million of the cost, and money from the state should take care of the rest. If there is a shortfall, Shea would cover it, Gibbs said.
Gibbs and Hansen said that more people, especially families with young children, are starting to buy homes because the prices have finally dropped low enough. According to the presentation, the enrollment at elementary-only Lammersville has grown from 771 in 2004-05 to 1,773 today, an average increase of 12 percent each year. Gibbs said that if the fees don’t come, the timeline for the high school will have to be pushed back.
“The promise of (a high school) is what’s driving a lot of people buying,” Hiramoto said.
Consultant Jim Bush, hired by Tracy Unified, showed a detailed PowerPoint presentation outlining the requirements Lammersville must meet to get its own high school.
Of those, both sides agreed that the two biggest obstacles were how the school would be paid for and how district boundaries might be adjusted. John C. Kimball High on Lammers Road, which will open in August, is close to Lammersville’s boundary.
Right now, about 300 students who live within the Lammersville district bounds attend Tracy or West High schools.
Building a high school in Mountain House under the auspices of a unified Lammersville district would give teens there things to do, Hansen said, such as participate in school activities and go to sporting events.
Hansen said that he trusts in himself and his board members to make the right decisions for themselves and their students. He said that he’s making sure Lammersville is going through all of the proper procedures.
“There’s no way that I’m going to jeopardize the students,” Hansen said. “We want to give them a quality program, equal to or better than what they’re receiving now. I have a very good check-and-balance system within the district.”
While no action was taken at the meeting, which lasted nearly three hours, both sides said the evening went well. The two districts will meet again, but no date or time has been set.
-Contact Tracy Press reporter Justin Lafferty at 830-4269 or firstname.lastname@example.org.