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Pearsall asks Manteca board to look into city use of school district facilities
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While the Manteca City Council was discussing the controversial Kids Zone issue and listening to the comments of nearly 50 residents Tuesday night, Karen Pearsall was addressing the same topic before the Manteca Unified School District’s Board of Trustees.

Pearsall said that stories about the city’s day care program that have been published in the Manteca Bulletin “made it sound like” the city is not paying the district for the use of its facilities and, vice versa, the district is not charging the city anything. The same news stories in the paper additionally reported that the Kids Zone program has resulted in a $117,256 profit for the city in a period of 10 months, she pointed out.

If that were the case, she told the district officials, she was thereby “publicly asking that if they (the city) are not paying their way,” that the district consider hammering out an agreement or policy that would address that discrepancy.

“It astounds me that a program that profits $117,256 in 10 months would not pay anything” for the use of school district facilities, she said.

All the while, the district had to lay off staff, cut back programs, “jiggle and juggle money from one fund to another” to balance the school budget, Pearsall said.

“Everybody has had to tighten their belts,” not just the city, added Pearsall.

She was not criticizing the Kids Zone program, she emphasized, because it is helping families that can’t afford more expensive child care, but that she simply wanted to know if there is any existing agreement between the district and the city “not to charge each other anything.”

The day care program’s use of school district facilities does not just involve the usual wear and tear on the structures, but there are other overheads such as air conditioning and heating charges and custodial work, Pearsall pointed out.

She said she was not talking about the district gouging the city but that, “everybody has had to tighten their belts.”

The money that the district could have collected from the Kids Zone’s use of school facilities could have been used for supplies or for the Manteca Unified Student Trust, a program aimed at supporting and promoting healthy lifelong learning of students in the district, and is currently serving hundreds of students, Pearsall said.

Superintendent Jason Messer stated that the district is not charging the City of Manteca for the Kids Zone’s use of district facilities at the nine sites. He also said that he was not aware of any reciprocity agreement between the district and the city regarding the use of facilities.

However, Messer said that this particular issue is “larger than just the Kids Zone but includes all district facilities.” In the wake of the day care program controversy that has been going on, Messer said that district staff has already started crunching the numbers not just on the Kids Zone but on other city programs as well.

The issue involves not just the use of the facilities but also “trying to capture all costs,” and not just utilities such as PG&E but also the wear and tear on the buildings, Messer said.

This matter will be put on the agenda at a future board meeting, either in December or January, for a more in-depth discussion of this issue, Messer said.

The same night of the school board meeting on Tuesday, the Manteca City Council unanimously voted to continue offering the Kids Zone program and to make it legal. The elected officials also directed city staff to make sure that the city pays all the costs connected with the program so that it is not subsidized by taxpayers’ money through the schools. That means Kids Zone, like other fee-based programs offered by the city Parks and Recreation Department, will pay its own way for expenses such as rental for the use of the classrooms at the nine day care sites, utilities (heat and air conditioning), and supplies used by staff and participants such as toilet paper.

A charge led by Manteca businessman Ed Fonseca, who owns a private day care facility located across the street from City Hall on West Center Street, resulted in citywide complaints that the city was operating Kids Zone without a license and other legal requirements, and that the program has hurt private day care business owners like him.

Some parents of children attending Kids Zone, however, said that the affordable day care program has helped them significantly especially financially. The city’s before- and after-school program charges lower fees than private day care providers.