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Many options for learning
Manteca Unified embraces charter schools
Sequoia School seventh grader Melissa Jara (front) takes notes in a math class on Friday. - photo by HIME ROMERO/ The Bulletin

Free public education that can be readily access by students in the Manteca Unified School District isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor.

Nor does it bother Manteca Unified Superintendent Jason Messer that anywhere between 800 and 1,000  youth that would have been attending the district’s 30 campuses are enrolled in free public charter schools such as River Islands  Technology Academy, Great Valley Academy, those operated by the San Joaquin County Office of Education and other nearby programs. Then there is home schooling supported by tax dollars with Internet learning centers such as one based in the Ripon Unified School District.

Parents willing to pay also can opt for Catholic schools including St. Anthony’s as well as nearby St. Mary’s and Central Catholic high schools, Ripon Christian Schools, and a healthy sprinkling of other Christian and private academies.

“I’m a firm believer in making sure a student can access the best possible education choice that works for them,” Messer said.

He indicted that is also the philosophy that drives the school board.

Manteca Unified parents have a lot of choices when it comes to their child’s education and that include within the local school system.

Within the district, students can access two-year Academy programs that wed vocational training with required general education. There are also independent study programs plus school alternatives such as continuation high school campuses. Calla High and New Vision are accessed primarily by students who due to family situations, health issues, or even the absolute need to work in order for their family to survive that provides. The continuation high schools provide them a structured learning environment built around independent studies to allow them to make up for lost credit.

While Manteca Unified with an enrollment of 23,500 students hasn’t accepted incoming students from inter-district transfers for years unless they are a child of an employee, parents do opt for requests to halve their child attending schools in communities where they work and where the local district accepted outside students. Most of those, Messer noted, are to schools in Tracy and Banta.

At first glance, one might assume losing 800 to 1,000 students to not be a good thing for a district. That many students represent over $11 million a year in lost Average Daily Attendance funds from the state.

Messer said the district is large enough that it isn’t an issue. Not having students also means not having the expense of educating them.

Charter schools have also helped help the district with classroom space.

When River Islands Technology Academy, it brought an unanticipated benefit — it relived overcrowding at Mossdale School as a large chunk of the students came from west of Interstate 5 in Lathrop.

The additional capacity gave Manteca Unified maneuvering room to accommodate growth without having to resort to busing. It also put off the need to move proposed Ethel Allen elementary school in west Lathrop forward for the time being.

By not having 1,000 additional students Manteca Unified has avoided spending upwards of $40 million on an additional elementary campus.

Messer praised strong charter school such as River Islands that have effective STEM (science technology, electronics and mathematics) programs even though they hired several teachers away from Manteca Unified and the lion’s share of the 565 students reside within the Manteca Unified boundaries.

“It is clear quality charter schools are effective,” Messer said

But he added not all rate as high as River Islands that only lost four students when they were forced to transition from their campus to a new school that was put in place three months after Banta School District kicked them out. The four students that were lost had moved out of the area.

Messer said in many cases students’ thetas re taken out of Manteca Unified classrooms by their parents into a charter school typically come back in a year or so. At the same time he said waiting lists for charter schools can be misleading. That’s because people put their children on multiple waiting lists, parents of a child on the list don’t want to move their students after they’ve started at another school, and some people simply change their mind.

At any rate, Messer said the advent of pubic charter schools has inspired district like Manteca Unified to find ways to improve education offerings. It was one of the driving forces behind the formation of the Academy.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email