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Manteca Unified’s surplus classrooms: Golden opportunity

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POSTED December 28, 2009 1:14 a.m.

The elimination of class-size reduction due to the budget crisis has left districts like Manteca Unified with a surplus of classrooms.

It could be interpreted as a godsend to a district like Manteca Unified that is actually growing but as District Superintendent Jason Messer pointed out that is not necessarily the case.

Class-size reduction was accomplished by adding portables that housed 20 students and not 30 students. If you eventually fill up all the empty classrooms with essentially 50 percent more students than they had before you will have elementary schools rivaling high schools in enrollment.

Manteca Unified and other districts may not have much of a choice but to employ a number of those empty classrooms regardless of how large it makes an elementary school enrollment when California gets back into growth mode. The reason is simple: Between bonding to cover the deficit, fund stem cell research, freeways, parks, high speed rail, and school construction the state is running perilously close to a reasonable debt level that – once crossed – will result in a severe drop-off in bond ratings which means the cost of borrowing will go up significantly.

There are scales of efficiencies and then there are diminishing returns.

Messer is right in that one doesn’t want to have an elementary campus with 1,000 to 1,300 students and have only one administrator. That could happen if 2010-11 budget cuts for Manteca Unified have to go to the bone.

It is less expensive, though, to run one school site than two school sites.

Manteca needs to aim for a middle ground. It would mean having more students at an elementary campus to reduce the need for future elementary schools.

Yes neighborhood schools do make a lot of sense. What doesn’t make sense is the abandonment of $20 million plus investments as larger districts age. Manteca Unified is not at that point now but give it 20 years or so and it will be. There are examples up and down the states of districts forced to close elementary schools due to declining enrollment as cities grow. Manteca by 2035 could have a population within its city limits that exceeds the entire district’s current population.  

There is the new reality dictated by real fiscal constraints.

The current fiscal crisis also represents an opportunity for Manteca to remake what a school is to the neighborhood it serves as the recovery gets under way.

Day care is a major issue for families. There is also a desire to have a safe place in the neighborhood where kids can go after school. The late Antone Raymus understood this when he included a site for a day care facility as part of the Vintage Estates neighborhood along Mission Ridge Drive. He also included a site next to the McParland Annex when Primavera Estates was built but there were no takers to invest the money needed to build a facility.

Manteca Unified has the facilities in place – empty classrooms adjacent to playgrounds.

The district could establish a program where they lease vacant classroom space to those who are licensed to run day care centers.

That way neighborhood kids who would otherwise go home to empty houses could simply go to a day care center on their school campus when the final bell rings.

The district also should reexamine how it designs future elementary schools. Roseville City Schools along with the City of Roseville partnered in the building of the Catherine Gates Elementary School. The city invested money to pay for a “classroom” adjacent to a multiple purpose room to run a program similar to Manteca’s after school program.

Such a partnership would allow the city to go one step further even if the only space provided was an equipment room and access to the playground. Manteca could offer playground program on a drop-in basis with a supervisor on site. Inclement weather would pose a problem but the goal would be to provide as much bang as possible for the buck.

In an ideal world, the City of Manteca would design neighborhood parks with a secured block storage building for a playground supervisor to access for equipment to run supervised drop-in programs at various parks.

Whether any of these ideas have traction is up to elected leaders. One thing is for certain. Neither the City of Manteca nor the Manteca Unified can afford to do business as usual and still come up with innovative ways to do what they are supposed to do – serve the community.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com



 

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