The party is almost over.
Manteca Unified schools as you know them today may cease to exist. Here’s why.
There were 508 new homes started in Manteca in the 12-month period ending June 30. Based on market conditions in the Bay Area, subdivisions that have been approved, and key infrastructure that is in place such as wastewater treatment the chances are good the next few years will see close to 1,000 homes built annually in Manteca.
Manteca has perhaps enough construction-related cash on hand to build one more elementary school that carries a price tag of $25 million. District leaders expect work on that school to start within five years.
It takes three sources of revenue to build a school: developer fees, state and/or local bond money, and Mello-Roos taxes. There are literally thousands of new homes going forward that have escaped being assessed for Mello-Roos taxes. Add to the fact current bond money won’t be used for new campus construction although it could conceivably be used to build a more cost effective replacement campus for Calla High on part of the Tinnin Road high school site.
That means Manteca Unified will only have a third of the money needed to build future elementary schools at $25 million a pop or a high school at $120 million.
Out-of-town developers don’t care. They are selling today. And today new home buyers see a school system they like.
But as growth accelerates and school construction lags the reality will change substantially.
Manteca Unified will always house kids. That’s not the concern. But the form that takes may not be palatable for very many people unless they like year round school, double sessions or children being bused 20 miles round trip to a school.
Busing is an option that the district likely will employ sooner than later after they run out of adequate school construction funding. It is a very realistic possibility that the buyers of $400,000 plus new homes south of the 120 Bypass will see their children bused to Lathrop, Weston Ranch, and even French Camp to take advantage of excess capacity as defined as any school that has space to squeeze in more students.
And it could happen sooner than you think.
The district could make a compelling financial argument to build Ethan Allen School next in Lathrop and not an elementary campus south of the 120 Bypass where by far the largest growth in the district is taking place.
The reason is simple. Lathrop has a Mello-Roos district for its emerging neighborhoods and existing homes in place that hasn’t been tapped. Large swaths of land targeted for home development south of the 120 Bypass are not in a Mello-Roos district. By building Ethan Allen first the district could conceivably leverage additional elementary schools elsewhere in the district in absence of a Mello-Roos district being established south of the 120 Bypass.
This would not be done out of spite but out of financial practicality. Lathrop has two of the critical three legs of school financing in place. Manteca south of the 120 Bypass just has one.
Backing the district into such a corner requires them to be prudent. That means going with a game plan that maximizes student housing in a rapidly growing district.
It is likely that the one third of the new school construction puzzle that is in place in Manteca will end up not going to any new campuses south of the 120 Bypass. That’s because state law wisely allows development fees to be used to buy buses that can ferry new students generated by growth to campuses where there is space for them.
It is also likely that those development fees collected south of the 120 Bypass will be used to add portables at existing schools elsewhere as that would be the most cost effective way of stretching construction resources since developers are opting not to create Mello-Roos districts.
Eventually that means elementary and high school campuses alike will face the real possibility of year round education to increase classroom capacity by 25 percent.
Most — if not all — of the listed scenarios will happen because developers are choosing to let them happen by not agreeing to obligate future homeowners for 30 years to pay for their share of student housing.
Manteca Unified nor does the City of Manteca have any legal authority to force developers into Mello-Roos districts. However, if developers want something beyond what state law requires cities to provide to accommodate new growth, the city has leverage. When developers were jockeying for scare sewer allocations they asked for development agreements allowing the city to require the formation of a Mello-Roos school construction financing district.
The real question is if developers who are cashing in on community amenities including schools that are already here are going to be responsible or whether they are in Manteca just for the quick buck.,
If it looks like the quick buck then maybe it’s time to consider a 1 percent growth cap with no rollover.
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 email@example.com or 209.249.3519.