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Paying the price for board putting ‘wants’ ahead of ‘needs’ in schools

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POSTED April 3, 2009 5:21 a.m.
There’s one danger in playing chicken. If the other guy doesn’t flinch you’ve got to face the music.

The Manteca Unified School District board is finding this out the hard way.

Gambling that the Manteca Teachers Association would take a 5 percent pay cut, the school board passed on putting one to three schools on ice for a couple of years – Lathrop High, Nile Garden, and New Haven – by shifting students elsewhere. The assumption was that the MEA would want to save the most jobs so therefore they’d go for the full 5 percent cut.

It is important to remember the school board had two cards to play to minimize impact on the most students. One was shuttering schools temporarily and the other was keeping their fingers crossed that the MEA would play their game. MEA leaders made it clear from the get go their preferred path. Apparently the powers that be thought they were just joshing.

A lot of finger pointing will occur but ultimately the board abdicated control and made it the MEA’s call and ended up with just a 1.8 percent in pay.

This was all done because “Lathrop was entitled to their high school” and it’s not fair to put elementary kids through the trauma of having their schools closed temporarily. Life’s not fair, but then again why would this matter since we’ve spent a generation or two cushioning young people from the concept of failure and/or not being able to get what they want.

High school memories of social endeavors and sports are important. I get that but they aren’t nearly as important as getting an education.

So now that the MEA has played their hands in response to the card the school board laid on the table, here’s a few tidbits of what is circulating from staff meetings and memos as to the next plan of action by site administrators who are now forced to disrupt the education process much more than shuttering three schools would have done:

•All teachers apparently are being informed they are unassigned and subject to transfer to other schools at the discretion of the district. They have little choice now but to do so. So much for the disrupting the neighborhood schools or keeping high school staffs intact.

•At the high school level only classes that have 30 or more students may be offered. This probably means good-bye leadership classes, good-bye advanced placement and honors classes, plus a host of other electives as the classes that will end up being offered are simply needed for high school graduation. So instead of “depriving” a quarter of the high school students in the district of a chance to go to their “own” hometown high school, every student can now be disrupted with the added bonus of classes being dropped.

•High schools may allow seniors to leave at noon as long as they are on track to graduate. Four hours is the minimum time students need to be in school for the district to collect precious state Average Daily Attendance payments. Besides, if you’ve cut most or all of the electives and advanced placement classes there isn’t really going to be much left around for them to take.

•Class-size reduction for all practical purposes will be a farce.

Everyone can cry foul all they want but this is the result of people pressing the school board successfully to take a course of action that is looking less and less the best choice to have made.

It has been interesting to listen to some beat the drum of “it’s not fair” and imply they are entitled to certain experiences. This is 2009, not 2006. The district is facing a $23.5 million budget shortfall. The decisions made this year aren’t going to be reversed any time soon if ever. The world has changed.

On top of all this a lot of people are assuming that it won’t get worse. The special election May 19 may unravel what is already in place as it is predicated on all ballot measures to patch the state budget passing. And even if they all did pass, each day brings more ominous warnings from Sacramento that the deficit is again going to grow.

It was time to get back to basics and make the hard decisions. Instead, the course of action was to keep warm and fuzzy things intact while giving the MEA the power to essentially call the shots on millions of dollars in cuts.

Slamming the MEA for “not sacrificing” is a cheap shot given that the board had opted not to keep classroom disruptions at a minimum by putting “wants” – keeping Lathrop High and other school open – ahead of “needs.”
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