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Keeping education free
School groups, others help struggling students
Brock Elliotts third grade lunch helpers Oscar Angel and Larissa Flores assist with the lunch line. - photo by HIME ROMERO/ The Bulletin

Money is tight for many Manteca Unified School District families.

It is reflected in the fact 11,927 students qualify for free school meals based on their family’s income while another 2,843 qualify for reduced price meals. That’s 63 percent of the district’s 23,500 students.

Much of the financial stress is driven by the fact that housing is exceptionally expensive for a San Joaquin Valley community. City of Manteca research shows that under federal standards  nearly half  of the city’s households are stressed when it comes to housing expenses including utilities and such because more than 30 percent of their overall household income goes to housing. That is a direct result of sky-high housing prices in the Bay Area that are sending buyers east over the Altamont Pass to look for options that are affordable for them.

The economic reality as well as state laws has prompted Manteca Unified to make sure additional burdens aren’t placed on those families when it comes to their children being educated.

“Students are not charged fees for anything related to core curriculum,” noted Superintendent Jason Messer.

That said, there are a lot of non “core curriculum” expenses that come up such as extracurricular sports and other activities, field trips, high school electives that have material fees, and even classroom parties.

“Most sites have cut back on parties since they take up valuable instructional time,” Messer said.

When there are parties, parents send what they can but there is no obligation for students to pay for classroom parties.

Field trips are usually covered by the various parent clubs. In some instances teachers will pick up funding gaps out of their own pockets.

Optional field trips such as science camp are paid by parents of students that elect to attend. There are typically opportunities for students whose parents’ can’t afford the fees but want to attend to participate in fundraisers.

Material charges in high school such as metal fabrication classes where a student’s assignment is to build a project from scrap aren’t forgiven just because parents can’t afford to cover the tab. Instead whatever the students create as a class project — in one instance at Weston Ranch High it was barbecues — the instructor arranges for it to be sold with the money generated covering the material costs.

Messer said in one instance he was one of the people who bought barbecues that students who  could not afford the material costs.

Transportation fees aren’t forgiven for competitive sports for anyone. But if families can’t afford to cover them the school’s athletic boosters groups do.

Each high school also has “angels” that will pick up specific equipment needs for sports that aren’t supplied by the school such as cleats for football.

Because Manteca Unified has a net cash reserve of three months for nutrition education, the federal government allows the district to waive all charges for students qualifying for reduced lunch prices as well. As a result students that qualify for reduced priced meals don’t need to pay.