The Sonora Union High School District will hold a special Board of Trustees workshop Thursday to discuss the future of the Wildcat Ranch.
Previous board meetings have prompted widespread support from the Tuolumne County agriculture community advocating for the retention and enrichment of the ranch, and the Thursday workshop likely will be no different, said Sonora High School agriculture teacher Stacey Ingalls.
“I would like to have some action to know where we’re headed. As ag teacher of this program, we can know what direction we’re headed and we can move forward,” she said.
New board President Jeannie Smith said the workshop would be an “interesting” opportunity for the public to reiterate their positions and educate the board about issues at the site.
“I’m looking forward to it,” she said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of public input. I think a lot of that public input will be what we have heard before, but I am anticipating some additional information that people have garnered.”
An advisory committee organized by the district in September recommended the district retain ownership of the entire 138-acre property at the intersection of Tuolumne and Wards Ferry roads.
The recommendation of the advisory committee was non-binding, however, and the trustees will ultimately decide whether to keep, sell or lease all or a portion of the property.
After a year of financial crisis within the district, some independent nonprofit organizations proposed a wholesale purchase of the ranch in order to develop it as a recreational or vocational site for the community.
Smith said that all options will be heard and taken into consideration at the workshop, but a significant study of the issues and opportunities at the site will be needed before a final decision is made.
“I think there will need to be some time that will need to be taken to make a decision about the ranch, she said. “I don’t think a decision will be made in the next couple of weeks.”
Ingalls said whether additional transportation to the site is acquired or it is developed in conjunction with other campus programs, the district should adhere to the advisory committee recommendation.
“We want to keep the whole thing as district property,” she said. “We see it as the benefit of Sonora High students, not just ag.”
The agriculture department now uses about 15 acres of the property for livestock, raised garden beds and a parking lot and rents a small parcel to a rancher who keeps 15 head of cattle on the property.
The ranch was purchased for about $750,000 in 1988 following the $2 million dollar sale of the of the former 120-acre Jamestown agricultural campus to the Sonora Mine Co.
An annual $200,000 proceed from the Sonora Mine Co., to establish a renewed agriculture program at the current site, never materialized after the company went bankrupt.
About $400,000 remains in Fund 40 of the district budget assigned for an agricultural farm, and 92 students are enrolled in at least one agriculture class at Sonora High School.
At its current level, the program requires $40,000 a year to function, not including Ingalls’ salary, which saw a 40 percent cut this school year.
Ingalls said she hopes many students will attend the meeting to “show their interest in the importance of the ranch and maintaining it as district property.”
Information about the meeting was circulated among the ag boosters, the ag advisory committee and local agriculture businesses, she said, and a petition from local feed businesses has garnered hundreds of signatures to be presented to the board on Thursday.
Some in the public are concerned about the legality of the meeting, because an agenda notice was not posted publicly on the district website as of Wednesday morning.
Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent Cindy Costello noted that, for special board meetings, agenda notices are only required to be posted 24 hours before the meeting, not 72 hours before, as it is for regular board meetings.
Thursday’s workshop will begin at 6 p.m. in the Sonora High School library.
Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.