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Manteca Unified: Why is it now faring worse than some nearby districts?

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POSTED September 2, 2009 2:10 a.m.
How did Manteca Unified get in its present financial predicament that some contend is worse than neighboring school districts?

Good question.

Here are some possibilities:

•Manteca bit into the forbidden fruit of class-size reduction.

There is a reason why student-teacher ratios were 30 to 1 for years. It’s called money. The reason the vast majority of the 83 teachers who actually lost their jobs was due to the state cutting back on funding for class size reduction. Other districts either opted not to go full-bore or ignored the temptation entirely wondering how the state could sustain the funding. Some of Manteca Unified’s woes came about in how they implemented class-size reduction. Manteca Unified leaders at the time – including teacher groups – had no problem with class-size reduction as it was considered putting resources where it would be effective. Now that the money’s gone, so are those teaching jobs.

•The opening of Lathrop High prematurely.
This is a true quandary. Lathrop High wasn’t obviously ready for its debut in 2008. The option came up after it was opened this past January to close it down. The money saved once every one was transferred would come down to support staff from the principal on down. Was it a sound move to make in terms of education? It’s tough to recall anyone arguing against it at the time. Would it have created major issues had it been closed after opening? Yes. The bottom line, though is based on the high school enrollment district wide the high school was opened prematurely and has required Manteca Unified to carry heavy support costs of a fifth high school.

•The hair-brained idea the board bought into when John Rieckewald was superintendent to enter the wireless internet field.

No matter how you slice it, the “forward thinking” of Rieckewald to sink around a million dollars into creating a district-wide wireless internet system that the general public could buy into for monthly fees to offset the costs was bizarre. It assumed they could do a better job than Verizon, AT&T et al when it came to servcie and cost. Just because it sounds good and seems like a good idea for education doesn’t mean you should do it. From the word go, it was doomed to fail considering Manteca isn’t exactly in the boondocks given the lucrative consumer market that most assuredly meant the wireless giants would ultimately control the air waves through low cost and offering the latest innovations.

•A full-blown football field at every high school.

This may come as a shock to some, but it costs bucks to maintain football stadiums and to power the lights. It is a prime example of how this district has pursued a policy of creating cookie cutter high schools where they are all created equal and passed on the opportunity to create  magnet programs at various sites and sharing them whether it is with athletic facilities, drama, science, or other disciplines much like they have done with the school farm. Forget the fact the $1 million-plus sunk into every football field could have been sunk into a cutting edge science center or even a competitive swimming pool. Everyone must have their own football field though. Yes it is about school pride and community pride as much as anything else but don’t forget everything carries a price.

Yes, every one of the above “reasons” plus countless others are judgment calls. That is why California has local school districts with locally elected school boards.

If you want everything to be equal – including how teachers are impacted by the current state budget mess – then everything has to be run the same. To do so you’d have to take a one-size-fits-all approach.

That would be good news for Delano and bad news for Beverly Hills.

The important thing now is to look for a way forward, to learn from past missteps, and to find ways to rethink how we as a community approach education so that our schools not only survive but thrive as Meccas of learning.
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