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2,200 student high schools: The emerging MUSD standard?

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POSTED August 24, 2017 1:33 a.m.

Call it “The New Math, Manteca Unified Style.”
The district currently has a tad under 24,000 students. Add up all of the approved housing projects and those that could processed in Manteca and Lathrop based on zoning, an analytical study conducted by the district shows when they are all built Manteca Unified will have 50,000 students. That doesn’t include all developable and by far. Instead it is the land where people are plunking down sizeable change so they can get approval to build or is zoned for housing.
To put that in perspective, Manteca Unified now has six comprehensive high schools including be.tech Academy, 20 elementary campuses, and two continuation high schools.
Based on current housing configuration, the district would essentially have to replicate its existing footprint to house 50,000 students. That, of course, is a long, long range concern.
The Manteca Unified board has been fairly explicit in general directions for staff to search out workable scenarios to handle growth. In essence, the district must get the most bang for what bucks are available and to make sure programs can continue on the par they are and even improve.
Given this is no longer the go-go days of the 1960, 1970s, and 1980s when California nearly doubled in population fueled by unprecedented growth in the Los Angeles Basin and San Francisco Bay Area, the old strategies won’t work. That’s because the nearly built out coastal cities hold more than three quarters of California’s population making passage of statewide bonds to build schools for growth a dicey proposition.
Manteca Unified has been trying to cap high schools at 1,800 students and elementary schools at 850. An emerging strategy pushes elementary schools to 1,000 (several were built to handle more through annexes and adequate support facilities).  Existing high schools could be capped at 2,200, judged to be the maximum size before secondary schools start feeling and acting as if they have 3,000 or more students.
Keep in mind the district has a little over $75 million on hand for growth-related construction. There are existing and new Mello-Roos districts in place but their ability to generate sufficent funds through their estimated bonding capacity requires homes to be built and a fairly large pool of taxes to be collected before bonds can be sold.
A new elementary school for 1,000 students can run between $25 million and $30 million depending upon whether infrastructure to the site such as streets, sewer, water, storm drains, and electrical power is in place. A high school for 1,800 students will cost at least $140 million.
Toss in the fact major changes have to take place at Manteca High so as not to deteriorate the quality of education as well as the use of what is a significant investment. That means a gym, cafeteria, and other support facilities that are right-sized and functional for today’s 1,500 plus students let alone 2,200 students.
The challenge then is make the right moves now so the school district can maximize money spent as the years go by on new construction to accommodate student growth. Then toss in another proviso that really does matter: Making sure the money collected through Mello Roos taxes and growth fees from parents that buy the new homes being built south of the 120 Bypass benefit their children at the high school level as opposed to the child they now have in kindergarten becomes a ninth grader.
Under the 2,200 student cap strategy, the campuses of Manteca, East Union, Sierra and Lathrop would have investments made in them to accommodate roughly 2,100 more students. It means the district would effectively squeeze out another high school without incurring the costs of two gyms, swimming pool, sports fields, a cafeteria, and other support facilities. At the same time those are the same things that are drastically lacking at Manteca High that is marking its centennial several years from now.
Such a strategy maximizes growth dollars and address serious needs at Manteca High that — should it not keep up with 21st century high school space needs — would require a replacement campus costing $140 million.
Eventually an additional high school or two will still be needed as current identified growth and that yet to be proposed advances.
The board gave an indication Tuesday at their workshop that additional classrooms will be built at Manteca High to accommodate growth. Essentially, that means Manteca High is being earmarked for 2,200 students. Extending that cap to other high school campuses throughout the district but especially the campuses in Lathrop and Manteca where the bulk of the development will happen on the near horizon, also accomplishes several other things.
It helps weave new residents more effectively in the fabric of Manteca as the 120 Bypass is an imposing barrier that can trigger balkanization. Schools — especially high schools — are strong magnets for community involvement.
In the long run, it also keeps the friendly interchange between high schools intact. That has been painstakingly nurtured over the decades with much of the effort around sports programs and extra-curricular activities. Keeping the high schools the same size would help continue to foster the congenial interaction that is not only good for the school district but also good for the communities they serve.
It is an ongoing process. Manteca Unified is clearly not leaving any stone unturned to do what’s best for students the community, and taxpayers.

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