The meeting starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Sonora High School, 100 School Street, Sonora.

The Sonora Union High School District Board of Trustees on Tuesday will consider a resolution to declare a portion of the Wildcat Ranch property as surplus and initiate the process for the potential sale or lease of up to 100 acres of land.

Superintendent Pat Chabot said if the resolution passes on Tuesday, the district will be responsive to buyers or renters who could cooperate with the existing Sonora High School agriculture ranch at the corner of Tuolumne and Wards Ferry roads.

A district advisory committee made a non-binding recommendation to the board on Sept. 14 that the entire property was not surplus and should not be sold or leased, but Chabot said on Monday it was “time to make a decision on this property.”

“We've looked at it from any possible angle, so now we want to see if there is anybody else who wants this property. If someone does make an offer on it, it's for the public good and it's compatible with our existing ag ranch out there.”

Chabot said the board denied a proposal from The Park Foundation, a Sonora-area non-profit organization that wanted to swap the 137-acre Wildcat Ranch with a 22-acre property adjacent to the high school and a cash payment, during a planned negotiation meeting last week.

Chabot and trustees Jeanie Smith and Rob Lyons attended the negotiation meeting, Chabot said, which was represented by Park Foundation President Ron Jacobs and “pretty much everyone from the Park Foundation.”

Following a discussion about “options and the pros and cons of both properties,” Chabot said trustees decided to deny the proposal due to how difficult it would be to build on the sloped, heavily wooded property behind Dunlavy Field.

“It didn't seem to be worth it at this time,” he said.

But even with the denial of the land exchange, a declaration of a portion of the Wildcat Ranch as surplus property means the Park Foundation could still see their planned community park and recreation destination become a reality.

If the resolution passes, the the board will send out notices to a select group of public city and county groups notifying them of the availability of the property for sale. Tier 1 groups, which include the Tuolumne County Housing Division, the Housing Authority of the County of Stanislaus, the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority, the Tuolumne County Transportation Council, Tuolumne County Parks and Recreation, the California Natural Resources Agency and Department of Parks and Recreation and the City of Sonora Public Works Department, can make non-binding proposal bids to buy or lease the property at any price.

Tier 1 organizations are selected based on specific passages in California Education Code, which governs the requirements for selling public properties and giving certain agencies the first opportunity to submit proposals.

Sixty days after the Tier 1 notices are sent, Tier 2 notices will be sent to the California Department of General Services, the Regents of the University of California, the Trustees of the California State University, Tuolumne County, the City of Sonora, and all the other school districts in the county.

Sixty days following the Tier 2 notices, non-profit organizations, public and private groups, and all other organizations would be allowed to make bids on the property.

A previous appraisal was made on the entire Wildcat Ranch property for $820,000, but Chabot said that number would be used as a “reference.”

“We feel the property is worth a lot more than that,” he said. “If we were to sell or lease it, the final sale price or rental price would kind of be determined on what the other organization would want to do with that property and the things we could share with them.”

Chabot expressed his hope that the final leasee or purchaser of the land would maintain, or even improve upon, a cross country course used by the high school which winds around the property. The district would plan to keep the current ag ranch in place, and withhold 30 to 40 acres from the deal, he said.

As of Monday morning, Chabot said he had not received any communication from any representatives of the ag community about the resolution to declare the Wildcat Ranch surplus property.

“We've heard from the ag community and our entire community over the past year,” he said. “I’m sure some people will be upset but I think most people recognize the need for us to go forward and make a final decision.”

The district advisory committee was emphatic in their declaration that the Wildcat Ranch not be declared surplus property.

In a report from Oct. 3, 2017, credited to chairperson Connie Williams, then the mayor of Sonora, she said it was “very evident” from committee and public opinion that the district did not hold the agriculture program “to the same level” as football and swimming, “for which bonds were passed to upgrade and build facilities.”

The September 2017 vote to recommend that the board not declare The Wildcat Ranch surplus property passed with six yes votes and three abstentions.

Kirsti Dyer, Stacy Ingalls, Ty Wivell, Gretchen Birtwhistle, Ricky Canepa and Richard Gaiser voted yes. Connie O’Connor, Chet White and Connie Williams abstained.

Also on Tuesday, the board will select a panel for interviews with district superintendent candidates scheduled for July 16 and 17.

The panel includes seven staff members, seven community members, and one student representative. On a list accompanying the board’s Tuesday agenda, Will Sarkisian and Debbie Hopper or Courtney Castle are included as two Sonora High School certificated employees, Ed Cassinetto is included as an alternative education certificated employee, Gilbert Hammerbeck is included as a certificated administrator (he is also identified as an “alternate”), Dana Vaccarezza, chief business official, is included as a classified or confidential employee manager, and Danny Hinkel and Mark Alberto are included as classified employes. Additionally,

Vonnie Lefman, ag representative, Kim Baker, band representative, Rick Francis, athletic representative, and Chet White, Gretchen Birtwhistle, Nate Howard and Robert Sinclair as at-large representatives are also included.
Britain Traub, a Sonora high school student, was included as the student representative.

On Tuesday the board will select finalists for the superintendent job during a closed session.

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or gricapito@uniondemocrat.com . Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.

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