At least three community members tossed documents provided by a Sonora-area nonprofit into the trash as they walked out of the Sonora High School Library Tuesday night, following the district’s decision to enter into negotiations on a land swap of the 137-acre Wildcat Ranch for a 22-acre parcel adjacent to the high school.

Parents and community members once again pelted the board with derision about the land deal before the board voted 3-0 to negotiate with representatives of The Park Foundation. Two board members were absent.

“Switching it for that piece of property over here just seems insane. I don’t even know why it’s being proposed to do that. I would just be really sad if you guys went forward with getting rid of the Wildcat Ranch,” said parent Brenna Arnett.

But others, including representatives of The Park Foundation urged the board to seek compromise and conversation.

“We can facilitate both the community and the high school needs,” said The Park Foundation Director Ron Patel.

The approval, he added, would show willingness to work collaboratively, but to ignore the offer would be “back to the status quo for the high school.”

There was some public confusion about why the topic had returned to the board, following a 2-1 vote on May 15.

Board President Jeanie Smith said at the last meeting the board had incorrectly identified approval. The vote did not represent a majority of the five-person board.

On May 15, board members Rob Lyons and Jeff Norstrom were absent. Smith and Ankrom voted to ratify the proposal, and board member Kimberly Norton voted against it. Student representative Levi Houghton also voted against the proposal in a symbolic gesture of opposition.

On Tuesday, Norton, was not in attendance. Lyons voted to approve the proposal, and said that neither the agriculture community nor the district had the money to develop the property.

“This group might have the money,” he said indicating to The Park Foundation representatives.

“All this does is allows us to communicate with this group to see if they are serious,” he said. “My intention is to make sure that we have a large parcel of that parcel out there for the continued use of the ag community and ag students.”

“I see nothing wrong with bringing this back,” Lyons said. “It wouldn’t have changed the outcome.”

The decision by the board is non-binding. Their decision to enter into negotiations with The Park Foundations could illuminate a solution for the use of a stagnant, underutilized property, they said, while also prepare the district for potential growth with the ownership of the Wilson property, a 22-acre, heavily wooded and sloped property behind Dunleavy Field.

“I think an ag ranch on that property is important and vital. I don't think 137-acres is,” Smith said.

Many speakers advocating for the retention of the Wildcat Ranch decried the “lack of transparency” of the board in seeking an arrangement that would circumvent the designation of the land as surplus property.

“We’d be trading the ranch for a crappy hill,” advisory committee member Kirsti Dyer said.

Some of the conversation also centered on potential former mining operations at site, which remained undetermined.

“The research performed to this point concludes there are no mines, but that there is gold,” a document credited to Jacobs said in reference to the Dorsey occurrence.

What all of the speakers about the Wildcat Ranch had in common was their belief that the land had potential for any owner.

“This is not just an ag property, this is Sonora district property, it’s a cross country course, it's an I don’t know, it’s 137 acres of opportunity for students,” Sonora High School agriculture teacher Stacy Ingalls said.

The board agreed the land had potential, but their lack of available funds hampered their ability to provide stewardship, guidance and development of the land, they said.

“It's time to look at our present situation and instead of being so adversarial and not being open to other options I would like to see a consideration of what could be a win-win. That was over 30 years ago and it hasn't been developed,” said Ankrom, in reference to the former Jamestown agricultural campus that had once been used by the district.

More than 25 people attended the meeting, much fewer than the May 15 meeting, when the teachers union made a declaration of no confidence in the board of trustees.

Superintendent search

With a representative of a recruiting company McPherson and Jacobson present, the board decided on the composition of a panel to conduct interviews of superintendent candidates on July 16 and 17.

The board created one panel of 15 members who will interview no more than six candidates. The candidates will also be required to be interviewed by board members in a social and official setting and be tested in a writing session with a topic question about an issue specific to the district.

The board decided to include three certificated employees, with two from Sonora High School and one from Dario Cassina High School chosen by the teachers union, one member of certificated administrative staff, one representative chosen from from both classified and confidential staff, and two classified employees with dissimilar positions.

Seven would come from the community, with a representative from the band community, the agriculture community, and a person from the athletics community chosen by campus athletic director Karen Sells.

Smith gave up her pick, she said, but the other four members of the board would make a community selection.

The last participant would be the student body president for the upcoming 2018-19 school year.

The new superintendent was expected to be appointed on July 24 and would begin in the new position on Aug. 1, William Huyett, the recruitment representative said.

At least 12 people have applied, and more than three-quarters of candidates applied within the last week, he added.

During his presentation to the board, Huyett said the “need for healing and unity at the school” was paramount, he said, and the candidate should be trusted by the district community to work for a long-term, invested vision.


Pool contract and other issues

The board approved a contract renewal with the Tuolumne County Parks and Recreation Department for use of the Sonora Aquatic Center over the summer months, after many weeks of speculation about the unsigned deal.

The deadline to agree to the terms of the deal was Friday before the start of the summer swimming programs.

Superintendent Pat Chabot explained that one of the holdups on the agreement was a stipulation asked for by the county that if the program was shuttered part-ways through the two and a half month duration of the program, the district would reimburse the county at a prorated value of their $15,000 payment.

Chabot reaffirmed his commitment to have the pool be a community asset during the summer months.

“This pool was advertised as a community pool and we want this to be used as much as possible,” he said. “We would still feel that we would like to have our teams in there even more.”

Four water polo teams use the facility during the summer, he said.

Lyons confirmed with Chabot that the county would be responsible for liabilities and damage incurred during their use of the pool. Chabot also said he would meet with the county on July 1 to potentially change the scheduling.

“Everybody wants to use the pool at the same time. That’s the problem,” Chabot said.

Chabot also said at the next board meeting, a group called the Dome Foundation would give a presentation on their plan to become a non-profit organization and potentially save the iconic and historic Sonora Dome.

The board also discussed the planned 2018-19 budget, which showed total revenues of about $13.1 million and total expenditures of about 12.7 million.

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



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