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One-size-fits-all makes no sense for seismic safety or education rules

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POSTED March 13, 2013 11:54 p.m.

It was an icon.

It also was close to indestructible.

Yet the Manteca High bell tower still came down in 1968.

Sacramento - with its notorious one-size-fits-all approach to the most diversified state geographically and economically in the nation - deemed it was not seismically safe.

Wrecking crews snapped cables twice when trying to tear it down in October of 1969. They then tried a massive Caterpillar tractor. But the building wouldn’t budge. Finally they had to bring in a wrecking ball.

The bell tower obviously wouldn’t have crumbled in an earthquake - especially those of the magnitude that could strike Manteca.

Earthquake standards for public schools came about after the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. At 6.3 on the Richter scale, some 230 school buildings were damaged in Southern California. The quake happened at 5:55 p.m. after school let out. Six months later, the California Legislature passed the Field Act establishing seismic safety for public school buildings.

The effectiveness of the Field Act standards was proven in the much larger 1940 Imperial Valley quake that registered 7.1 on the Richter scale.

The 16 schools built to the Field Act standards suffered damage equivalent to 1 percent of their valuation. The pre-Field Act built schools sustained damages equal to 29 percent of their valuation. It obviously works - for Southern California quake zones.

But how does the Field Act play in Manteca?

The United States Geological Survey places the closest fault to Manteca some 10 miles away. It runs from Tracy through Central Stockton and ends near Linden. The USGS indicated the last appreciable movement was three million years ago. The federal earthquake experts believe the worst quake that the fault will produce is 5.0. There were several 4.0 quakes near Linden in 1940.

Given that, why are Field Act standards the same in Manteca as they are along the San Andreas Fault, one if the world’s longest and most active quake zones?

And if defenders of the one-size-fits-all Field Act don’t see a difference then how can they knowingly put 644,000 California kids in jeopardy?

Sacramento politicians are diverting state tax dollars for education to charter schools. Charter school enrollment has gone up more than 10-fold since 2006. Within a few years, one out of every 10 school-aged children in this state could well be attending charter schools.

Yet it is OK for them to be schooled in structures that don’t pass the Field Act.

At the same time is it OK to burden Ripon Unified - which is now getting ready to build new classrooms at two campuses - with more stringent Field Act standards while a charter school that could open up in Ripon wouldn’t have to adhere to the same rules even though they will receive state funding?

It gets worse.

Manteca Unified can’t use the Lindbergh School campus on North Street that was built in 1925 as a public school. It doesn’t meet Field Act standards. Yet the district could be forced to turn over the campus to a charter school should one come along.

Charter schools are nimble and are able to produce results quicker in many cases because the state has fewer regulations covering their operations.

The Field Act requirement aside, if public schools were given the same parameters as charter schools, can you imagine what you might see happen to public education in California? It would mean less red tape for schools to handle, more flexibility at the district and classroom level for educating the kids they have and not teaching to some state model, and more efficiency.

What ails education in California might just be the diversity of this vast state and the sheer number of students with almost 6.8 million enrolled in public and charter schools.

Perhaps creating a regional approach - collapsing numerous county offices of education together - and decentralizing Sacramento rule might provide significantly more flexibility and freedom. Then teachers can do what they were trained and have a passion to do - teach - and not prepare students to take state measurement tests.


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 or 209-249-3519.

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