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Manteca Unified isn’t crying wolf about budget woes

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POSTED April 26, 2009 2:04 a.m.
If you want class-size reduction to stay intact, then there is only one thing to do – convince the Manteca Unified School District board Tuesday to put Lathrop High on ice and close two elementary schools by consolidating Veritas and Nile Garden as well as New Haven and Joshua Cowell.

You can hold your breath until you’re blue in the face but it isn’t going to change the fact the district doesn’t have the money it once did. The prospect that it’ll be in a worse financial bind after the statewide May 19 special election is very real.

The school board lost its gamble that the teachers would make their work easier for them by taking a bigger pay cut. The board was reckless in basing their entire budget cutting strategy on the anticipated generosity of teachers. They assumed that teachers would rather take a pay cut than to see colleagues lose their jobs.

It was a classic case of Pollyanna 101.

There are only two big items in terms of bridging the gap – school consolidation and elimination of class-size reduction. Neither one on its own will get the district to where it financially has to be in 2009-10 but coupled with other Level III cuts the board glossed over when they opted for the easy way out  can get  Manteca Unified to its cost reduction goal.

Nothing in education is in a vacuum especially today. Every program impacts another program in a financial way. Saving Lathrop High or two neighborhood elementary schools for the sake of the “education experience of the students” is simply going to make every student in the district pay including those who supposedly are entitled to the experience of attending their own community high school or their own neighborhood school.

Instead of just a few students suffering the horrible indignantly of going to school elsewhere everyone will be able to share in the pain – bigger elementary classes and fewer electives at the high school.  The price is worth it, right? You can look back in 20 years and talk about how you were able to cheer you own community alma mater on to victory. Those advanced placement courses or industrial arts classes weren’t necessary anyway. That’s not what you go to school for, you go or the glory not the education.

If anyone thought this school board would act in any other manner you really need to get a grip on reality. No other California unified school district this size with a similar tax base would make it an absolute must that every high school has its own lighted football stadium.

And you thought Texas was football crazy.

A harsh statement? Absolutely not.

We’re in the middle of what is shaping up to be the worst financial crisis facing schools since the Great Depression and the school district continues to have lighted night games for soccer. It doesn’t really matter if the student body is picking up part of the power cost because it ignores the fact that is sports as we now know it that are so important that we raise havoc with the entire secondary system in Manteca Unified to keep Lathrop High open that the student body organizations are going to have no choice but to pick up a bigger tab next school year.

The shrillness of the debate gets insane at times. More than a few people have pointed the finger and said, “Mr. Wyatt, it is obvious you don’t have kids at Lathrop High or in school.”

Guilty as charged. But you know something that is really funny? The vast majority of California voters don’t have children in public schools. I’m the first to argue that we all benefit from strong schools. I’d also be the first to coincide that Sacramento – and Manteca Unified – aren’t crying wolf this time around.

Everyone is going to have to buckle down and do their part. That may mean parents spending more time helping their kids. I do know what that is like. When my grandchildren were going to school in Manteca Unified, I took out two nights a week to help tutor them and keep their school work on track. Big deal, you say. Not really although I did have to juggle by work schedule and dinner break so I could help them. I don’t deserve any laurels for the effort.  It is simply to point out you do what you have to do to help the people that are important to you whether they are your kids, your grandkids, or even neighbors.

The real solution is not in the money. It is in finding ways as parents and community members to maximize what is spent on education.

This means our teachers are going to need our help more than ever no matter what happens Tuesday. This means Give Every Child a Chance and other organizations are going to continue to need our help.

And as much as it goes against my grain, it probably means I have to seriously rethink my opposition to everything on the May 19 special election ballot.

It’s time to cut the crap about how people not impacted shouldn’t have a say. It is also time to stop being self-centered about one’s own child. We’re all in this together.
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