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Now that they’ve laid off 209 teachers, what is Manteca Unified doing next?

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POSTED June 26, 2009 2:09 a.m.
Nancy Teicheira gets it. Manuel Medeiros gets it. Rex Holiday gets it.

Too bad the rest of the Manteca Unified School District board doesn’t get it.

In the middle of the worst budget crisis in the history of the Manteca Unified School District as well as telling 209 teachers to hit the road, the board voted to commit discretionary funds to build – are you ready for this – more classrooms.

Perhaps I’m missing something, but when you wipe out 209 teaching positions you’re probably going to have 200 or so unused classrooms.

The Manteca Unified board – which could be defended for proceeding with the $13 million district office complex that Manteca Educators Association president Ken Johnson fondly calls the Taj Mahal – is completely indefensible on this one.

Sure, there was a one-time state grant that – assuming the state doesn’t renege on paying it due to its own money concerns – that was going to be history if Manteca didn’t proceed. To make the $4.6 million deal fly, the school district has to come up with $347,390 over the next four years to pay the state. In case any parents who are a bit shell-shocked at the deep cuts being made out there, that is the equivalent of the salary and benefits of at least one teacher for the next four years.

It’s a deal of a lifetime, the backers of the deal might say. How else can you leverage money like that? There’s a flip side to that. Education is a once-in-a life-time opportunity for students.

Yes, the district is going to take $12,500 they will receive from renting out the high school site on Tinnin Road for farming to go toward the state repayment but where is the rest of the money coming from? No big deal. I forgot. The district is printing money these days.

In case someone on the school board didn’t notice, a lot of people are pretty upset with government spending these days. A lot of folks aren’t happy with what the Manteca Unified School District board has done but they understand the times. This, however, won’t sell too well with people whose kids can’t access college prep courses, their kids are being dumped into classes 50 percent bigger, or else are losing their district jobs.

You’ve got to ask yourself one question: Is this really a necessary expenditure at this juncture in time even with how relatively little it takes to leverage the $4.6 million project?

It’s not like there won’t be plenty of empty classrooms available.

So how does one of the four board members justify the expenditure? To quote, “I grew up on a farm and it gave me the values I have today.”

With all due respect, my grandmother raised eight kids and ran a working ranch by herself during the Depression. I can assure you that when she was struggling to hold on to the place the last thing she would do was use money that could have kept the ranch going on a new building.

Then again, if grandmother had left the ranch behind and got a public sector job with better pay, better retirement and better benefits than she had as a working rancher she may have looked back at her “ranch (or farm)” values in the rear view mirror a bit differently.

This explains why the only two farmers on the board – and the biggest boosters of ag education – voted “no” along with Holiday.

Burning money for something you can’t afford no matter how good of a deal isn’t something a farmer or rancher would do.

It is also something that an elected official shouldn’t be doing into today’s climate in California.

Budgets are imploding. Teachers are being laid off. Programs are being eliminated.

The board majority may look at $347,390 and say it is a pittance and figure this may be the worst year for education funding and things will then get better but if that’s the case they are in for a rude awakening.

Property taxes in San Joaquin County are expected to plummet by 15 percent when reassessments are made next month. That is a big deal considering the state is taking much of the property taxes paid to fund education.

The question is in a year or so when the district is facing another round of cutbacks pushing 15 percent, will the district be able to afford the payments let alone staff the shiny new classrooms?
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