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300+ STUDENTS WALKING SAVED 6 TEACHING JOBS
How 1.25-miles became MUSD distance to determine if K-8 students could ride the bus
messer budget cuts
Then superintendent Jason Messer leads a committee meeting of educators, support staff, and community members in 2009 that devised recommended budget cut for the school board to consider to bridge a $13 million deficit.

The cost of Manteca Unified reverting back to pre-2009 distances to essentially bus in-city students that don’t have special needs to school is a minimum of six teachers.

Protecting the classroom drove  a package of program/service cuts cobbled together by a broad-based committee of 100 plus people representing educators, support staff, and the community.

They were addressing a $13 million budget deficit created 15 years ago when the Great Recession — fueled by the mortgage/housing collapse crisis that was triggered by liar loans — drastically slashed state school funding.

The recommendations the school board ultimately adopted were essentially crafted from gut wrenching committee discussions that opted for a bunch of precise surgical cuts instead of wholesale amputations.

Besides adding a quarter mile to half mile to the minimum distance the school bused students, there were literally dozens of other cuts made from eliminating four high school counselors to save $260,000 to cease mailing payroll checks in favor of on-site distribution to save $12,000.

The committee eschewed bigger dollar cuts due to the more severe negative impacts on classroom education.

Those cuts ranged from closing multiple schools such as Veritas that alone would have saved $442,000 in support/administration staff by shifting students to other campuses to increasing maximum class sizes from 34 to 35 students districtwide in the fourth through 12th grades.

Increasing the walking distance to 1.25 miles for kindergarten through eighth grade and 2.5 miles for high school students, the district saved $315,000.

That was less painful than the option to eliminate to and from school bus transportation except as required by law for special needs and homeless students.

Such a move would have saved $3 million and avoided dozens of small cuts such as eliminating librarians, reducing the number of vice principals, going to a skeleton custodian and maintenance crew, dropping science camp transportation camp, dropping seventh and eighth grade after school sports to name just a few.

There is a small, but persistent number of parents, almost exclusively south of the 120 Bypass that are now pushing the school board to reduce the walking distance to pre-2009 standards due to safety concerns.

Some have pointed out the Great Recession has passed. Others point to the district’s reserves.

They argue the district can afford to reduce the walking distance and bus hundreds of more students daily than the 1,900 they did daily in 2023.

It is not as simple as that.

While the deep funding cuts of 2009 have been restored, the state has continued to add mandates that are often only partially funded that must come from the same slice of state’s financial pie for TK-12 education a district receives to educate students and provide the support services they need ranging from janitorial and food services to ongoing building maintenance.

The district having funds in the form of allocated cash reserves to balance budgets over a three-year horizons when coupled with state funding projections has created financial stability that has allowed Manteca Unified to avoid programming cuts and such that have plagued many other districts.

In fact, the school board decision to make building a strong financial position to guard against the boom-bust cycle of state funding was forged from the desire to either avoid a repeat of 2009 or at least minimize the impact on what happens in the classroom during rough funding patches.

The state does not mandate busing for the general student population, nor does it fund it.

The exception are special needs students and homeless students.

And as far as special needs students, the state doesn’t 100 percent reimburse districts for the costs they incur.

The decision to retain home-to-school transportation beyond the walking distance is based on the fact the vast majority of the 113-square-mile Manteca Unified School District is rural.

Less than 25 square miles are within city boundaries or semi-urbanized areas where all but two schools are located.

Besides some students residing as far as 10 miles from the nearest elementary school, rural roads tend to be 55 mph affairs with no shoulders and no lighting.

Crossing French Camp Road near Austin Road in rural northeast Manteca is significantly more fraught with risks than crossing Union Road in urbanized Manteca.

That said, the superintendent is empowered to make appropriate exceptions to the no bus zone rules.

Such was the case a few years back where several elementary students were within 1.1 miles of New Haven School but had to cross French Camp Road where traffic often travels at 60 mph or faster.

The district does work with the cities within Manteca Unified to get them to implement safety improvements — high profile crosswalks, installing missing sidewalk segments, traffic calming devices and such along primary corridors to develop safer routes to school.

The district also takes major barriers into consideration when possible such as arterial streets, train tracks, and freeway crossings when changing school attendance boundaries.

Manteca Unified also works with Manteca Transit to develop routes that work out well especially for high school “walking” students that reside in areas more toward the 2.5 mile dividing line that triggers bus service.

Older elementary students within walking distance of their home schools also take advantage of the city bus service.

Manteca Transit is free for all Manteca Unified School District students.

 

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com