The Manteca Unified School District and City of Manteca exist for two entirely different reasons.
Both trace their roots to community-based movements anchored in a desire to create a better Manteca as well as to pool resources of individuals together to pay for needs and amenities as well as secure services that people acting on their own can’t do. The people funding those services through taxes whether they are individuals, families, couples, or businesses do not have the ability to write blank checks. They are under a lot of pressure.
Consider one expense everyone has — PG&E. Not only is the utility seeking a 12.1 percent rate hike that the company estimates will cost a typical household $120 a year primarily due to wildfire concerns, but actions of the company have helped to send homeowners insurance premiums soaring due to wildfire losses in many cases by more than $100 a year. PG&E’s answer for years of shifting rate revenue for maintenance projects into the profit column and increasing its exposure to wildfires will likely cost households in Manteca at least $100 every time they cut the power off for two to five days based primarily on food spoilage and extra costs incurred to spending 48 to 120 hours without electricity. That doesn’t include household financial losses when their employers have to shut down due to a lack of power.
PG&E — indirectly and directly — alone is going to cost a typical Manteca household at least $320 more over the next 12 months.
Toss in rising rents still going up double digits, the minimum wage pushing consumer prices up and even city recreation program fees higher and it is clear the financial survivability of some households and the economic viability of a growing number of business concerns are in question.
It is against this backdrop that Manteca Unified and the City of Manteca need to find ways to partner to reduce not just ongoing operating costs where feasible but also not duplicate $10 million facilities that, by the time debt service is factored into the equation, are more like $15 million facilities.
There are a lot of obvious areas this can work — swimming pools, gyms, future libraries, field use and such.
Right now elected leaders on both sides seem to be talking the talk just fine but getting their respective agencies off their derrière to actually walk the walk is another matter.
It’s not helping that a roughly decade-old quid pro quo arrangement for facilities as well as the payment for school resource officers was never spelled out in much more than a memo. Worse yet, it is clear both sides didn’t give the proper directions to front-line staff in place which is how things like the school district being billed for use of the golf course and individual school sites paying for the golf course use even though every document since 2013 lists the golf course as a city facility the city agreed not to charge the school district to use.
Making this more perplexing is both the school district and city have administrators at the top that want the rules followed and proper accounting to take place. They also sincerely express a need not to duplicate facilities that are expensive to build and maintain especially given that the wants, needs, and pressing modernization/maintenance issues facing the school district in terms of facilities and infrastructure is pushing $1 billion and the city’s is easily at $500 million. Both entities also must deal with an electorate that has a tendency to take its frustration out about increased taxes and economic hits on the level of government that is most intertwined in their day to day lives and easiest to access — cities they live in and local school districts.
The live grenade tossed in the middle of all this was the uncovering of the fact the city should not have been charging the school district for two school resource officers as city voters in 2006 approved ballot language for the Measure M half cent safety tax that explicitly two of those SRO positions would be funded from the new tax.
Yes, the city failed to follow through. At the same time the school district pushed to help pay for the positions when they were threatened with city budget cuts during the recession. It is doubtful that either side at the time realized they were violating the 2006 directive of the voters.
The most recent document sent to the district from the city on Feb. 21, 2019 is where the conversation needs to start. It includes an actual formal contract regarding the duties, hours and expectations of the SRO program. It uses real numbers to come up with what each SRO when they are assigned to schools costs which is $50,000 per officer.
It lists the city’s contribution to the quid pro quo arrangements at $265,000 for actual fees that would have been charged plus another $76,000 for current employee compensation for serving and maintaining the proportion of city facilities the school district uses.
It is a charge others who pay rental fees don’t pay as elected leaders on the council didn’t want to make use of facilities cost prohibitive and instead opted to rely on taxes to make up the difference. The school district points out that the students who use city facilities through school programs are part of the public as well.
That’s exactly the sparring that former school trustee Nancy Teicheria sought to avoid when she pushed for the quid pro quo arrangement years ago when then Manteca Unified Business Services Director Michael Dodge was arguing the school district needed to keep track of toilet paper usage by students enrolled at elementary campuses in the city’s after school Kids Zone program and bill the city accordingly.
The Feb. 21, 2019 document lists softball fields, tennis, park (as in summer lunch program) and street use, as well as the golf course as city facilities the schools would use at no charge. As for school district facilities the city wouldn’t be charged for it was space and support facilities needed for the summer camp, Kid Zone programs, basketball gym use, and swimming pools for overflow programs from Lincoln Pool.
The school board and city council needs to do everyone — especially the taxpayers — a favor and ratify that quid pro quo language in a formal agreement.
They also need to have side agreements for true joint use partnerships such as for the one in use for the four community gyms in use at elementary school sites. Such an agreement would be needed if the city was to become a true partner in the operation of — and future upgrade and maintenance costs — a new swimming pool at Manteca High. Given that there is no overlap in use, the district would pick up two thirds of the costs going forward and the city a third.
As for the SRO and the legitimate issue of whether money the city shouldn’t have collected from the schools should be paid back, three things need to be done.
For the next school year the city should charge the school district no more than $50,000 for the cost of one of the three SRO officers. The current year charge of $300,000 for the three SRO officers plus that of the officer the school requested to flat between elementary schools should be written off by the city.
Then an agreement should be signed that the school district will never pay more than $50,000 a year for the third SRO as a way of working off what the district was charged for in error after the district offered to pay for SROs.
It may not satisfy some who want everything the schools paid for the two SROs reimbursed but in the end — and it may not be until the year 3030 assuming no interest is charged — the schools will be been reimbursed. Meanwhile the schools have a set cost for a century or longer of paying $50,000 for what is essentially a three officer school district police force. Also the waters aren’t poisoned for the real need — finding ways to reduce facility construction and ongoing maintenance as well as upgrade costs.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.