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Does Manteca Unified really need nine more schools?

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POSTED April 16, 2014 12:06 a.m.

Manteca Unified contends they need seven more elementary schools and two high schools in the next 20 years.

That’s based on student yield rates from 21,064 additional residential units that could be built in Manteca, Lathrop, and Weston Ranch by 2035.

This may sound abstract to you. And as such, it may not interest you. But does $410 million pique your interest?

That’s the estimated tab for building those nine campuses. 

The first step the school board is taking to secure the necessary money is preparing to impose the maximum allowed $3.36 per square foot on all new residential development. That means a typical 2,400-square-foot house would have $8,064 in school facilities fees collapsed into the selling price since that is what the builder will need to pay Manteca Unified. If all 21,064 homes are built and are the same size that would generate $169.8 million. That leaves a $240.2 million shortfall. 

There are only two other places the balance can come from: State bond proceeds – if they are available – that are doled out by Sacramento and general obligation bonds.

The bond the district is toying with could cost a typical homeowner between $10 and $20 more a month depending upon their assessed valuation.

Before we get another school bond measure on the ballot, some serious thought needs to be given to whether the $410 million price tag is on the high side.

First, does the projected need from growth take into account public charter schools? Manteca Unified has had a significant enrollment drain in recent years from three other charter schools – Great Valley Academy, River Islands Academy and those operated by the San Joaquin County Office of Education at the Arch Road complex. To underline their concern about charter schools popping up, Manteca Unified made it a top priority to convert the Lindbergh School campus on North Street into a district maintenance yard and health services center. If they didn’t, state law allows any available unused school facility to literally be commandeered by a charter school. 

Lindbergh School was an ideal candidate.

And while Manteca Unified couldn’t use it again as a school due to modern earthquake standards changing, the same prohibition doesn’t apply to public charter schools.

That in itself underscores a bit of irony given both are still public schools funded with state money. Earthquake standards and expensive safety standards imposed by the State’s Architect’s Office add significantly to the cost per square foot of a traditional public school.

There are 6.2 million students enrolled in traditional K-12 public schools in California. That would be higher but 519,000 K-12 students are enrolled in public charter schools that do not require tuition. There is also an additional 49,000 students on waiting lists for public charter schools.

Year-to-year growth of charter schools is plugging along at about 10 percent. By the time a bond measure is put on the ballot in the next year or so, at least 10 percent of all K-12 students funded with state education dollars will be enrolled in public charter schools.

If that ratio held in Manteca Unified and the number of public school students keeps growing even at a slower pace through 2035, the district would not need at least one  elementary school. That’s a savings of $30 million.

Now consider Manteca Unified’s big push to create vocational academies – essentially public charter schools for high school students under the umbrella of be.tech. They are being pursued as a way to make students employable after graduation and essentially offer an alternative to the one-track thinking of many high schools, which is every graduate should and will go to college.

It is extremely laudable and responsive to real-world needs. If they succeed, it is quite plausible they could have 1,500 high school students involved in be.tech programs on an annual basis in the coming years. That eliminates the need for one $100 million traditional high school campus.

Other factors could reduce the need for traditional campuses. Additional age-restricted neighborhoods such as Del Webb at Woodbridge are among the 21,964 additional residential units they could be built in the next 20 years. Such homes do not have elementary school kids. If 1,000 such homes are included in the mix, it almost wipes out the need for a second elementary campus.

It is possible that Manteca Unified will not need $160 million of the $410 million of new school campuses they project they will need in the next 20 years.

Will charter school trends and age-restricted neighborhoods continue? It is reasonable to think they would just as it would be reasonable to think the current student yield per housing unit will continue.

If that is the case, the real new school funding shortfall is $80.2 million and not $240 million.

Yet the district will likely craft a bond assuming every housing unit will have a traditional family with 2.3 or so school-aged kids and that they all will go to traditional schools.

It is reasonable for taxpayers as well as home builders that will pass on community facilities fees to buyers of their homes to expect the district to take the growing impact of public charter schools and age-restricted neighborhoods into account before putting a bond issue on the ballot.

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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