Sonora, CA – Superintendent Dr. Mark Miller told Clarke Broadcasting he received the paperwork from the Tuolumne County Farm Bureau (TCFB) regarding a lawsuit to block the partial sale of the Wildcat Ranch today.
The TCFB attorneys filed paperwork last week against the Sonora Union High School District as reported here. The ranch, owned by the district since the mid-1980s, houses the high school’s agricultural program. However, late last year, outgoing school board members voted to sell 112 acres for $1-million, at the intersection of Tuolumne and Wards Ferry roads, to The Park Foundation for a community park there. The district is retaining 25 acres for its agricultural education program.
One of the main contentions of the lawsuit is that ag money was spent on other items. Superintendent Miller questions how spending money on legal fees will help. He says, “What I don’t understand is why, if your main concern is that money wasn’t spent the way it should have been to improve that facility for the purpose of increasing agricultural education in the community, then why are we spending tens of thousands of dollars on attorneys out of that fund instead of spending it to build buildings and better education?”
A claim by the TCFB is that an earlier sale of the district’s Jamestown campus property netted the district more than $4.6 million with most of the proceeds going to other needs rather than on agricultural education. Miller counters that argument is not documented in fact, stating, “It was very clear from the beginning that not all of that money was intended to go towards the ag programs. There was some of that money that was intended to go the ag program, but there are actually architect drawings of what that new facility was supposed to look like and ag is sitting on about 10 percent of that land.”
As reported here, on Jan. 22 trustees held a closed session discussion to discuss a cease and desist letter sent by TCFB several days earlier. In it, the farm bureau maintained that district trustees had violated the Brown Act because members of the Park Foundation sat in during some closed session board negotiations that were not accessible to other members of the public. The bureau also questions if the public was given enough time to discuss the sale. Miller responded, “Looking at the records again, we beat that thing to death for two years at almost every board meeting. I can’t imagine that people needed more opportunity to say what they needed to say.”
Miller notes that the park foundation will actually help the district afford renovations to the remaining 25 acres for ag education. “Right now, we don’t have nearly enough money to put anything more than a porta potty up there on the facility. So, the park foundation is going to give us over the course of a year, over a million dollars. Some, if not all, of those funds, I think, will be earmarked to put up and improve that facility in a way that we simply don’t have the resources to do now and would not anytime in the near future without the park foundation jumping in and purchasing the property.”