The lack of a school funding mechanism for thousands of new homes expected to be built south of the 120 Bypass may mean year round schools could become a reality in rapidly growing South Manteca.
Manteca Unified District Superintendent Jason Messer indicated that is one option now being considered if developers and the Manteca City Council don’t come up with a funding solution.
Messer made his comments a day after city officials on Tuesday made it clear at the council meeting the city had no legal obligation to encumber development on behalf of Manteca Unified to require new homes being built to go into a Mello-Roos district or provide additional funding for schools beyond the square-footage charge that is universally in place under state law. City staff said the district could request anything they wanted but that the city couldn’t force developers to participate.
It was a sharp departure from the early 1990s when the city worked with developers to assure schools would have the ability to serve growth generated from new homes. That is how the existing Mello-Roos district covering parts of Manteca was put in place. For years the city required new development to annex to an existing Mello-Roos district but then stopped doing so apparently believing the district would be able to house all for e students generated from the thousands of new homes they were approving without the Mello-Roos stipulation.
Under state law, schools can’t refuse to serve additional students. They also don’t have any authority to encumber development besides the state allowed mitigation fees.
Those mitigation fees collected on homes that have been built so far will allow one more elementary school to be built in south Manteca either at the Rustic of Terra sites located on either side of Airport Way. But after that unless the city and developers act money will not be generated to help build additional elementary schools at $25 million to $30 million each or the fourth city high school on Tinnin Road that will cost between $120 million to $150 million. More than 60 percent of the city’s population is expected to be south of the 120 Bypass by 2030.
This could lead to a number of unpopular scenarios.
*Year round or double sessions could be put in place at Woodward, Veritas, and the next elementary school that Messer expects construction to start on within five years.
*Using available money in Lathrop to build Ethan Allen School there and bus south Manteca as far as 18 miles daily to go to school.
*Balloon the enrollment significantly at Sierra High which serves the area south of the 120 Bypass. That could force double sessions or year round school at that campus.
Messer stressed it is the district’s “job to educate kids” and that will be done even if there isn’t a local source of funding beyond bond money and mitigation fees to wed with state bond money when it is available. That is where options such as year round school or double sessions would come into play.
Messer made it clear that the district will not be shy about explaining the situation.
It could consist of an ongoing campaign employing billboards and newspaper ads to make future residents aware student housing issues.
They would pose questions that the district recommend home buyers should find the answer to such as whether there will be a neighborhood school ever built that their children can attend or if the schools that their child will go to are on year round or double sessions.
Messer stressed the impact of not being able to house student growth south of the 120 Bypass will be kept in that area with the exception of Sierra High that serves students from much of the area in question.
The superintendent said there is adequate capacity at Nile Garden School to make sure rural students in the agricultural community won’t be impacted by the inability of the district to house students generated from new homes when they are built. That would mean year round schools or double sessions for Nile Garden School would be off the table as a partial solution to student housing needs triggered by growth.
A campaign to educate potential residents could have a chilling impact on home sales south of the 120 Bypass especially given River Islands at Lathrop has a game plan in place where the developer is actually building schools ahead of housing growth. Home buyers with children would have to weigh buying in an area that has year round school, double sessions or buses students out of the community or opt to buy a couple miles to the west in a community where steps have been taken so kids can attend neighborhood schools they can walk to reach.
Several subdivisions have already started that aren’t part of Mello-Roos districts. More or at various points in the approval process or have been granted final approval.
The real potential for year round school or double sessions could also create political problems for the Manteca City Council from existing residents south of the 120 Bypass and others in the Sierra High attendance area that are paying Mello-Roos taxes and suddenly find their kids in crowded schools. The ability of residents in the area to exert their wrath at the ballot box on school board members will be diminished since voting has been switched to trustee area only.
Messer said while issues led to the school district not pushing as hard as they should on school housing needs, they will significantly step up their efforts to do so. That will include having two district representatives attending planning commission and city council meetings every time time a subdivision is being reviewed to go on record so the public knows the district doesn’t have adequate funding to build schools needed to serve future students.
Trustees also directed Messer to have a special board meeting on June 21 to explore all aspects of Mello-Roos districts.
Messer said the school district will give developers that want to help provide schools the options of participating in a Mello-Roos district or in another funding mechanism such as that in place at River Islands.