Measure B finishes what district started in 1998

By Reggie Ellis

WOODLAKE-Woodlake High School District is asking voters in Woodlake, Three Rivers, Elderwood and Seville to continue its transformation of the WUHS campus by passing a $50 parcel tax in a special election on Tuesday, March 8.

If passed by the necessary two-thirds of voters, Measure B would impose a $50 parcel tax each year. Superintendent Steve Tietjen said the tax would raise $300,000 a year for the next seven years, giving the district a total of $2.1 million for repainting campus buildings, fencing, irrigation and well improvements for the baseball field, and salary and benefits of additional maintenance employees. The money will also help the high school district complete the school's outdoor sports facilities - and pay groundskeepers to maintain them - built with the money from a $3.6 million bond, Measure J, which passed in June of 1998.

Measure J passed with 73% of the vote and the district was able to use that money to leverage another $2.6 million in state modernization and joint use funding. With $6.2 million, the district built a new competition swimming pool, purchased a joint-use transportation center for school buses with the elementary school district and a new Student Activity Center. The jewel of the transformed campus, the multi-purpose center acts as a cafeteria, assembly area and a gymnasium that seats 1,100.

"Housing the busses used to take up at least three acres of campus," Tietjen said. "We purchased the 12 acres to house the busses for $250,000. It was the deal of the century."

New athletic facilities will include an all-weather track of recycled tire, an old parking lot converted into a practice field for the school's athletics program, build an outdoor basketball courts for physical education classes, add tennis courts and replace five portable classrooms at about $100,000 each.

Tietjen said the reason the district did not seek another bond measure was because of their inflexibility. Bond measures can only be used for capitol improvements or new construction. The parcel tax will allow the district to pay for staff to maintain the new structures built following the bond's passage.

Tietjen said the improvements have made a positive impact on campus pride and student behavior toward the high school. Tietjen said graffiti used to be widespread on campus but now has nearly been wiped out. In 2002, Woodlake High School was named one of the three Most Inspirational High Schools in the nation by the Advanced Placement (AP) College Board for its work in increasing the number of college eligible graduates based on SAT scores. The president of the board came to Woodlake to present them with a check for $25,000.

"We sent a message to the kids that this is a place they and the community can be proud of," Tietjen said. "There is a whole different attitude of the kids."

The parcel tax is also being proposed by the Board of Trustees because the State of California has not been able to fund schools at the level set forth in Proposition 98 for the last three years. The school district has had to reduce its workforce, modify its modernization plans and change the structure of the instructional day. When voters approved Prop. 98 in 1988, they guaranteed kindergarten through community college funding a minimum amount of state and property tax revenue each year based on unrealized assumption of steady General Fund growth.

The tax will expire in seven years unless it is reauthorized by the voters. Approval of this measure will require the Board to establish an oversight committee so that the expenditures made from these funds will be reviewed, approved and reported to the public on a regular basis.

The last day to register for the election was Feb. 22. Absentee ballots must be received by the Elections Office no later than 8 p.m. on March 8. Polling will take place from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, March 8. Polling places will be set up at the Woodlake Fire Station, 35802 Olivera Dr. in Elderwood; Three Rivers Memorial Building, 43490 Sierra Dr. (Highway 198) in Three Rivers; Woodlake Memorial Building, 355 N. Acacia St. in Woodlake.

"We are hoping the community responds to all of the good things that have been done here and that they continue to support what we have," Tietjen said.

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