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Board would target new athletic facilities work over classrooms
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The track at Manteca High.

You may be asked Nov. 6 to tax yourself for another school bond — possibly as much as $90 million — so Manteca Unified can have funds to tackle a list of upgrades centered primarily around athletics and physical education.

Less than four years ago voters approved a $159 million school modernization bond aimed at upgrading aging facilities throughout Manteca Unified School District. 

But after rising construction costs have cut roughly 30 percent out of how far that money can stretch, the Board of Education is considering putting another school bond on the ballot.

While a decision whether to proceed  won’t come until next month, the board voted 6-1 on Tuesday night to form a committee to explore options and gauge public opinion on the matter. Trustee Nancy Teicheira cast the lone dissenting vote. 

The district currently has $143 million of bonding power at their disposal,

According to Superintendent Clark Burke, the decision on how much to go out for will be up to the board, although he estimated that it would likely be for between $60 million and $90 million to complete some of the projects on the district’s facilities master plan that could not be addressed by Measure G. 

And while Measure G was aimed at enhancing student safety by upgrading critical systems, the new bond proposal would be geared towards constructing athletic facilities throughout the district that took a backburner to security and deferred maintenance. 

“I understand that the public is tired of paying this tax and that tax, but if you look at how schools are funded you’ll see that schools are funded by the State, not sales tax or the Transportation Occupancy Tax or the new big-box retailer that is coming to town,” Board President Stephen Schluer said. “Growth is great for the cities, but not so much for the schools.”

Based on numbers from the 2014 master plan that laid out the $600 million worth of upgrades the district would like to tackle, the cost of upgrading high school athletic facilities based off of what is already on the list was $22 million – which becomes more than $29 million when adjusted for construction inflation since those numbers were formulated. To handle the needs of the entire district – which would include upgrading playgrounds at elementary schools, for example – the district placed a tag of $65 million, which balloons to roughly $84.5 million using the 8 percent annual escalation that the district has seen for projects. 

That rising cost of construction has sidelined a plan to upgrade the field surface at both Sierra and Weston Ranch high schools when solicited bids for work that district administrators hoped would be done this summer came in almost 50 percent above what was budgeted. 

The full scope of where the potential bond money would be spent, and which projects would be included, has not yet been determined by the board or the committee formed to look into the matter on a deeper level, but the board has spent more than two years looking at plans to install all weather tracks at each of the high school campuses and even considered artificial turf fields to replace natural grass. Other athletics-based projects on their wish list include upgrading the undersized pool and gymnasium at Manteca High School and replacing aging tennis courts that in some cases are deteriorating. 

According to Burke and Facilities Director Aaron Bowers, having the flexibility to use additional funding to tackle athletics-based upgrades will mean that money from Measure G that was budgeted from the allotments to individual school sites – which get some flexibility in determining where money will be spent – can go back into the pot and pay for upgrades and renovations that were previously excluded because of budgetary concerns. 

Whether the new funding would extend to areas outside of the scope of athletics was not formally discussed by the board. Burke did point out, for example, that some of the decisions that will have to be made regarding facilities will include addressing the situation with Manteca High School’s Dorothy Mulvihill Theater – where a failing roof will either need to be repaired or replaced or the district will have to abandon that facility and look elsewhere to cater to the needs that the facility served. 

The board will revisit the issue on July 24 when they’ll hear back from the newly formed committee – which is being composed of two representatives each from the Manteca Educators Association, the local chapter of the California School Employees Association, Manteca Unified Administration, the School Board and the public – on the options that the district has moving forward. 

That committee will have the power to consider hiring a polling firm to gauge public opinion so that the board has an idea about the popularity of such a move before formally investing in such a venture. Preliminary estimates for the hiring of a campaign consultant that would manage the entire process – including launching a public relations campaign and navigating the district in the lead-up to the election – range between $25,000 and $30,000, although simply using a polling firm for data purposes would likely be far less. 

In order to qualify for the November ballot, which will require 55 percent of voters to approve the measure as opposed two-thirds if they waited until next year, the district will have to submit the final proposal by Aug. 10. That’s because state law requires bond measures in off year elections to have a higher threshold to reach since voter turnout is historically lower.

The $600 million needs list does not include any new school construction.