Voters in Banta and nearby River Islands in Lathrop will decide on the future of their school district on Nov. 3, and the voters’ decision could be a milestone in the creation of a new high school for River Islands.
In addition to the usual reelection of board members for their school district, Banta voters will consider a measure asking for part of Tracy Unified School District to merge with Banta Elementary School District to create Banta Unified School District. Also on the ballot are five seats for the new school district’s board of education.
Banta Elementary School District Superintendent Dan Moore said the outcome will be a big step toward creating River Islands High School.
“For the last two years, we’ve been working with Tracy Unified School District on creating our own high school, which makes us a unified (school district), and they’ve been extremely supportive, as has their board,” Moore said.
Should the measure pass, the unification would take effect July 1, 2021, effectively replacing the elementary district with the unified district.
Susan Dell’Osso is the president of River Islands Development, which is building the 11,000-home project on Stewart Tract, between Old River and Paradise Cut northeast of Banta. She said the development company is also set to build River Islands High School, one of eight schools the developer will ultimately build.
River Islands High School will eventually have 1,800 students, but the plan is to open a $60 million first phase with about 500 students and add a second phase as the community grows. River Islands Development has contributed a 55-acre site at the junction of River Islands Parkway and Paradise Road. The roads have been extended to that area, but it remains undeveloped.
“The goal right now is to finish the design — and it’s very preliminary at this stage — and start construction in 2021 sometime,” Dell’Osso said, adding that it’s still unclear whether the school will have just freshman and sophomore classes or grades 9 through 12 when the school opens in 2023.
“None of that has been decided yet. It’s really just physical buildings we’re looking at, and the program of how we open is in preliminary discussions,” said Dell’Osso, who is also president of the board of education for River Islands Technology Academy, a charter school that serves the community’s K-8 students.
What is known is that River Islands’ high-school-age students will no longer have to commute to West High School, as they do now. The new unified school district will allow students from River Islands Technology Academy and NextGeneration STEAM Academy to move on to River Islands High School. Moore said that another elementary school for River Islands is in the planning stage.
While Banta School on El Rancho Road in Banta will be within in the new district, those K-8 students will continue to have the option to attend Tracy High School, as have previous generations in the mostly rural community, or they can choose to attend the new River Islands High.
“There’s so much tradition with the original Banta School, a lot of the families went to Banta and then Tracy High. We didn’t want to disrupt that,” Dell’Osso said. “That was an important part of the negotiation, was to make sure that even though Banta is unifying, there is still the option for those parents to send their kids, as they’ve always done, to Tracy High.”
In addition to the unification measure, Banta voters will elect a five-member board of education for the unified district. The election for the existing three-member board is also on the ballot. Incumbents Patricia Speer and Joshua Anderson are up for reelection, while board president Gene Neely has two years left on his current term.
Moore explained that even with passage of the unification measure, the three-member elementary district board will continue to exist until July 2021. The new five-member unified district board would then take over.
As of Thursday, Speer and Anderson had filed both for reelection to the elementary board and for election to the new unified board.