Ripon’s small town character could be in jeopardy.
That’s because the bulk of the growth in its schools over the next 10 to 15 years could likely be driven by its neighbor to the north — Manteca — and not growth in Ripon per se.
The largest residential development ever envisioned in Manteca has been approved on 1,050 acres with a large chunk of that within the Ripon Unified School District.
At build-out the residential phase of the Austin Road Business Park will generate an estimated 10,200 residents including 1,983 students in K-12. Planners indicate 58 percent of the number of students anticipated or just fewer than 1,200 kids would live within Ripon Unified.
That’s a significant number given there currently are a little more than 3,000 students in the Ripon Unified district.
It would take two kindergarten through eighth grade schools to ultimately house the students as well as 16 new high school classrooms.
Ripon Unified is a somewhat different animal than Manteca Unified. Some of it has to do with the size of the district and its schools. Some of it has to do with the community. Ripon Unified and Ripon are synonymous. Manteca Unified and Manteca are not. That’s because Manteca Unified contains Manteca, Lathrop, and a part of Stockton in the form of Weston Ranch, as well as French Camp and the respective surrounding countryside.
Ripon Unified is simply Ripon and its countryside.
There of course is the debate which school system is better. Ripon, overall, scores higher but even so to say one is better than another is subjective. Manteca Unified arguably is more rounded when you get to enhancing basic programs thanks in parts to its size.
That is where the rub is. Manteca Unified has 23,500 students, Ripon Unified 3,000. The difference in size means different school-community cultures.
It doesn’t mean Ripon is superior or Manteca is superior when it comes to an educational experience. It means they offer somewhat different experiences that from some folks’ perspective represent a vast difference.
Ripon Unified based on historic Ripon development will grow. But the rate of growth will be much more subdued than Manteca Unified.
Tossing in another 1,200 students from a different community (Manteca) will change things significantly. There is nothing inherently wrong but once it starts happening the Ripon community will start losing their cherished small school district feel and even their small-town feel.
It doesn’t have to happen.
Ripon Unified could request that the area that the City of Manteca annexed that is within their boundaries be absorbed by Manteca Unified.
Manteca Unified on the surface would not have any advantages by accepting such a proposal.
But this isn’t about the school districts per se but about the communities of Ripon and Manteca.
Future residents would live in Manteca and access community programs and such but would have their children in Ripon Unified schools.
Having a seamless community experience would seem more preferable.
How much negative impact could the status quo inflict on Ripon?
Manteca Unified could share some insights. Before Weston Ranch High opened, students from the southwest Stockton residential development of the same name went to East Union High for a number of years.
And yes, there were problems. Manteca Police noted shortly after Weston Ranch opened and students were no longer bused to East Union, service calls to the East Union campus plunged by 80 percent. It reflects what now retired school officials said at the time. It was very difficult to incorporate commuting parents from Weston Ranch into the fabric of East Union High especially when they were struggling to build community endeavors in their own neighborhoods such as Little Leagues and such.
Back when Harold Hughes was Manteca Unified superintendent when the developer of Weston Ranch first made his plans known, school administrators and the board floated the idea with Stockton Unified that they absorb the area so the community would be kept intact being in the same school district as the rest of that part of Stockton. Besides, Weston Ranch was in the extreme northwest section of the district away from established communities that generated district students. The same thing applies to Ripon Unified.
The deal killer was the insistence of Stockton Unified that Weston Ranch would have to come with the tax-rich industrial base around Stockton Airport and Arch Road east of Highway 99 that was part of the Manteca Unified district.
There is no gold mine of existing property tax in the area now in question.
And if there were, would the additional bulk for the Ripon public educational system be worth the price?
Ripon Unified brass may view the Austin Road park project as an empire building ticket.
Manteca Unified upper echelon might not be thrilled about having another 1,200 students on top of what could be another 6,000 or so over the coming 10 to 15 years if Manteca and Lathrop grow as they historically have.
Ripon Unified trustee Ernie Tyhurst is right to be concerned.
So Ripon Unified isn’t at the mercy of the City of Manteca, maybe the Ripon community should debate whether the Ripon board should approach Manteca Unified and give up territory that has been annexed into Manteca for housing development.
Once houses start going up, Ripon’s fate will be sealed.
And while it isn’t a bad thing having Manteca kids go to Ripon schools, it may not be what the Ripon community wants.