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Manteca bucks trend, grows

Enrollment jump leads SJ County schools

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POSTED December 27, 2009 1:45 a.m.
Manteca Unified enrollment is up 144 students.

That sets it apart from virtually every other school district in San Joaquin County that is either stagnant or losing students. The only exception is Lodi Unified that experienced a double digit growth.

it is one of the reason Manteca Unified was able to call back some of the teachers who had been issued pink slips at the beginning of the school year.

It represents about a 250 swing in student enrollment as Manteca was using a conservative budgeting approach and projected a loss of 100 students. That would have dovetailed into the trend of the previous five years when enrollment dropped almost 500 students to just slightly above 22,000 students.

That’s good news in the middle of a budget crisis, right?

Not exactly.

District Superintendent Jason Messer said most people incorrectly assume 144 more students means more state funding to hire back five teachers. The problem is the district does not get full average daily attendance (ADA) payment from the state unless a student is enrolled for a full year. If they start in November, they receive less than three-quarters of the ADA amount for a year. At some point in April, they will receive nothing if students start then even if they are in school for two months.

That means the district essentially can’t count on state revenue to hire teachers.

It gets even trickier.

At some grade levels – fourth through eighth grade is one example – the state penalizes districts if they exceed certain classroom student to teacher ratios. Back in 1969, the state set the ratio at 29.8 for those grade levels. If a district exceeds that amount they are forced to send money back to the state unless they hire another teacher. In either scenario it is a loss-loss for the district financially.

Manteca Unified – in the middle of a budget crisis – actually is facing growth issues that may require building a new elementary campus in the not-too-distant future.

Enrollment has the potential of growing everywhere in the district. Manteca, with 250 new homes selling plus almost 1,200 resales so far this year has growth as does Weston Ranch. Sales are also picking up in Lathrop.

The problem is where does the next elementary school go? The district had started site work for a new elementary school in the Mossdale Landing area of Lathrop but growth pressures may dictate that Rustic be built first in southwest Manteca.

Messer said there is capacity at existing schools due to the cutback of class-size reduction. That, however, isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Messer said there are some real serious questions about whether it is wise to have elementary schools that are between 800 and 1,100 students. Several in Weston Ranch are topping 1,300 students.

Even if the district opted to hold the line and bus kids to schools with empty classrooms once used to accommodate class-size reduction, there is the issue of staffing.

One of the cuts on the list of last resort is eliminating vice principals at elementary schools. If that happens, there would be one administrator for as many as 1,000 to 1,300 students.

“Principals by the nature of their job have to go off site often during the school day,” Messer said. “Having one administrator for that many students isn’t good but there could also be cases where there is no administrator on site.”

Messer said the reasons could range from mandatory meetings for curriculum and site related issues to court appearances.

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