Tietjen: Virginia Smith Trust offers school opportunities

County Schools Superintendent Steve M. Tietjen, Ed.D., speaks during the Merced County Office of Education Annual Education Report at the Merced Downtown Professional Development Center, in California on Thursday, March 3, 2022.

County Schools Superintendent Steve M. Tietjen, Ed.D., speaks during the Merced County Office of Education Annual Education Report at the Merced Downtown Professional Development Center, in California on Thursday, March 3, 2022.

[email protected]

The focus of my career as an educator has always been to serve students, families, and the community, whether as a teacher, school district superintendent, or in my current role as Merced County Schools Superintendent.

Of the many programs and opportunities I have seen for students, one truly unique opportunity is the Virginia Smith Trust, which provides grants and scholarships for students to pursue higher education.

Virginia Smith was a native Mercedian whose grandfather settled in Merced in the 1850s. He built a landed legacy that spanned more than 15,000 acres in three central California counties. Virginia never married or had children, so when the time came she made the decision to have the children of Merced County benefit from her wealth. Virginia provided in her will that the remaining land under her control would be granted to the Merced County Office of Education in a Trust for the Children of Merced County to be used for college scholarships, thus the Virginia Smith Trust was born.

VST donated 7,100 acres of land to the Merced County Office of Education Board of Trustees to support needy and deserving students, which has benefited over 3,000 Merced students through scholarships nearly $6 million in studies since 1975.

The VST and the land associated with it was vital to the regents of the University of California selecting Merced as the home of the tenth campus of the University of California.

I have worked with our Board of Trustees and several other organizations to fulfill Virginia Smith’s wishes by providing scholarships to Merced students. In fact, this year, the Virginia Smith Trust provided nearly $100,000 in grants to high school students for the first time, as well as $590,000 in scholarships to 83 students, an increase of 50 students over the previous year. .

Although the grant and scholarship is currently only available to students attending school in the city of Merced, we are working to expand it to Merced County students.

Projected endowment revenues could reach $1.7 million by 2026 and up to $10 million for Merced County students by the end of the VST development project in the late 2030s.

VST’s planned development will provide housing for all income levels, with large lots for residents in the custom home market and smaller lots for more affordable homes. In fact, more than 10% of the units in the development (over 400 units) will be destined for affordable housing markets.

The VST development has reserved land for schools, parks and public safety, such as police and fire stations. The development will fund these amenities and not increase costs for other parts of Merced.

All of this is possible due to the unique nature of VST development.

One of the main reasons we can move forward now is that Assemblyman Adam Gray passed legislation allowing the City of Merced to annex UC Merced. Once annexed, the City has the ability to annex neighboring properties adjacent to the university. VSTs will then have access to city services and these properties will begin to pay the appropriate user fees and taxes, as we all do. UC property taxes will begin to flow back to the city of Merced after annexation.

The future is promising, but it needs the action of local elected officials. The VST Environmental Impact Report and Plan will be submitted to the Board of Supervisors in the spring of 2023 and it will be up to Merced City Council to annex the VST property later in the spring following the annexation of UC Merced.

Let’s all support the dream of scholarships for all deserving students. When the time comes, I will need your support to fulfill this long-standing promise by calling on elected officials and attending meetings. Let’s make these meetings a true celebration of Virginia’s visionary gift to Merced.

Steve Tietjen is Merced County Schools Superintendent

Comments are closed.