Are you willing to throw away $159 million on a gambit?
The Manteca Unified School District top brass is hoping you are.
Measure G on the Nov. 4 ballot is a classic financial rabbit hole. There is absolutely no guarantee exactly how the money will be spent. True, they list new buildings, deferred maintenance, and technology. That said, there is nothing to prevent them from spending the lion’s share of the $159 million in bond money on technology.
There is a precedent. Some $500 million of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s $1 billion tablet rollout snafu that just cost the superintendent there his job is being financed using 30-year bonds. If you think that is OK, then ask yourself this: Would you take out a 30-year-loan to buy your kid a smartphone, tablet or personal computer?
Besides just being a money drain, the much ballyhooed marriage between Apple and LAUSD has produced endless technical glitches and security problems not to mention confusion over who pays for lost or damaged tablets — parents or the school district.
If you’re worried about your kids being able to surf porn on a device they can use away from your control at home, on the way to school or any place they can get WiFi signals, you might want to talk to LA parents. A number of kids overrode the security filter put in place to prevent them from surfing off-limit websites in just two clicks after having the tablets for less than three days.
LAUSD is also facing the possibility that people can hack into lesson plans much like they can hack into the Pentagon’s computers.
Manteca Unified just like LAUSD sought out collaboration. They didn’t compare Apples with the high-tech equivalent of oranges — Microsoft. They were not driven to get the lowest responsible bidder. They were driven by one thing and one thing only: To be on the cutting edge of technology.
This approached worked well for Manteca Unified in the past.
They only blew $1.7 million in taxpayer funds the last time they thought they were versed enough to play with the big boys.
That’s when former Superintendent Jim Reickweld convinced the board they could do what Verizon hadn’t done at the time — bring wireless Internet to Manteca. To win the somewhat skeptical board over about competing head-to-head with the likes of AT&T and Verizon, district staff told the board not to sweat it as they could sell monthly access to residents and businesses for $15.95 a month. Staff projected they’d generate $1 million a year in sales to underwrite wireless Internet access for Manteca schools.
You’ll never guess what happened. Manteca Unified got less than two dozen households to bite to generate less than $5,000 a year. In case new math skills have clouded the issue for some educators, $5,000 is not $1 million.
Microsoft, to the credit of their stockholders, knows how to dazzle clients as they should. No one is going to buy your software unless you market it.
Using schools is the classic Pepsi approach.
Before they were caught up in the sugar police movement, the soft drink giant made a run at Coca-Cola’s market share by throwing money at schools in exchange for placing soda machines stocked exclusively with Pepsi products on their campuses. Pepsi showered schools with scoreboards, scholarships, and whatever it took. While the money coming from the soda machines was good it was nothing compared to the priceless ability to get students hooked on their brand by making it the only one available to them for much of their waking hours when school is in session.
If you don’t believe Measure G is primarily about providing Manteca Unified with the money to drink the Microsoft Kool-Aid as Los Angeles Unified did with Apple, ask yourself one question: Why weren’t you as a parent or taxpayer being told about all the deferred maintenance concerns such as the reported asbestos and lead paint as well as 28-year-old carpets safely pieced together by duct tape until the Going Digital initiative surfaced?
It’s because if there was a real asbestos or lead paint concern the district would have tackled it years ago. You can’t keep something like that under wrap. As for the 28-year-old carpets, they were only four years newer in 2010 but they still had duct tape.
Manteca Unified definitely needs the $159 million bond to address their tablet fix and to keep it supplied in years to come.
The consultant the district hired to help them devise a bond that they could pass made it clear from day one: Voters are more likely to support the bond if it is marketed as one needed to address pressing safety and health issues.
The only pressing safety issues is the district having enough money in the proverbial safe to finance the ongoing tablet initiative from kindergarten through 12th grade. As for the health issue, it’s to keep Microsoft financially healthy.
LA couldn’t put tablets in the hands of all of its students without $500 million in bond money. Manteca can’t do it either without the $159 million bond on Nov. 4.
Just think: For the cost of a cappuccino once a week you can pay for the next 30 years for a tablet that will be obsolete in three years.
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.