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EU fire alarm detects $159M smoke & mirrors of school bond
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Is Manteca Unified guilty of grade inflation or is there something more sinister at work?

In the district’s School Accountability Report Card filed for the 2013-14 school year with the California Department of Education, a different view is given of the East Union High campus than the mush being fed voters in a bid to get them to sign what is virtually a $159 million blank check for district brass in the form of the Measure G school bond.

Voters are told one of the pressing examples of the dire shape of Manteca Unified schools can be found in a faulty school alarm system at East Union High. They have been told there are times when it is on the fritz that they must deploy staff around the campus to be on the lookout for fire.

The district tells the state — and the general public since that is what the school accountability report card is all about — a different story. Under the section regarding repair status there is an area covering system inspections made by the district.

Manteca Unified says when it comes to “safety, fire safety, hazardous materials”, the repair status at East Union is “good” and that no repair is needed nor is their action taken or planned. This statement was filed with the California Department of Education on Dec. 5, 2013.

Just three months later as the district was crafting its facilities needs plan concurrently with its plans to spend $30 million on Going Digital they discover the East Union High fire alarm system is virtually non-functional and creating a major safety hazard. At the same time voters are told the East Union High electrical system is atrocious. The latest accountability report filed says the electrical system is in good shape and no repairs or action is planned.

Examine other school accountability report cards for other campuses. Virtually overnight Manteca Unified went from having facilities in good repair to schools being ticking time bombs in terms of threatening student health and safety.

Where is the asbestos? Where is the dry rot? Where are the floors ready to cave in? Where are the classrooms where the temperatures dip into freezing range in winter and students swelter in summer?

When pressed we are told there are classrooms with 28-year-old carpet held together — safely one might add — by duct tape. 

We are told security cameras are inadequate. Would it help perhaps to turn back on lights that were turned off to save money?

The fire alarm argument does alert us to smoke as in the type that accompanies mirrors.

The districtwide health and safety “crisis” didn’t surface until the school district fell madly in love with Microsoft and partners such as Panasonic. The $30 million gambit to push technology into the hands of every student from a kindergartner to 12th grader has an initial price tag of $30 million. It also has a $3 million reoccurring annual cost in the form of upgrades.

This means two things. The district needs more money for “school furnishings and equipment” that are allowed to be purchased with bonds. The district didn’t take care of pressing needs with post-Great Recession one-time money it received from the state before going on a shopping spree for the latest gadgets.

Putting tablets in the hands of every single student is wonderful and foolproof. Just ask Microsoft’s nemesis Apple and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

But the real issue isn’t the platform the district chooses to teach kids. It is whether the district is moving forward in a financially responsible way that doesn’t imperil its ability to provide decent salaries for teachers and secure adequate support staff.

A funny thing about maintenance: You need people to do the work. Why isn’t the district bragging about cut classified positions that they’ve restored or new ones they’ve added? Perhaps because they opted to go digital instead of making sure they had adequate staffing to keep classrooms from falling apart.

Oh, that’s right — the state stopped providing money for deferred maintenance.

Too bad that is what folks use to politely call a whopper. The state under Gov. Jerry Brown’s leadership and at the urging of virtually every school district in California, took money that previously had restricted uses on it and allowed districts to use it as they saw fit. Among that money was deferred maintenance. The district is still getting it the money. They just opted to spend it on other stuff such as tablets.

The district received $800,000 in deferred maintenance funding by setting aside to match it for $800,000 a year. They still receive the $800,000 without strings attached but they don’t have to set aside $800,000 to get it. A fact school board members seeking re-election might want to note is that the accountability report card they signed off on for East Union High notes the district in 2013-14 had $1.6 million set aside for deferred maintenance.

So is there money for deferred maintenance or not? There is if it is to placate the public on a school site accountability report required by law but there isn’t if it is to guilt voters into passing a $159 million school bond.

It is true. Where there is smoke, there is fire.

But what is burning is taxpayer cash that the district opted to line the pockets of Microsoft and Panasonic with first before addressing heath and safety concerns that they contend in three months time not only surfaced but got so bad that students are in  jeopardy.


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 or 209.249.3519.