“Watch your step. Look down at the floor.”
Those seven words uttered by a teacher one March morning in 1982 were the precursor for an image that is forever imprinted on my mind.
Ahead of us between rows of simplistic wooden desks filled with attentive fourth graders rigidly and quietly sitting at attention were a series of gaps in the floor.
Planks were missing or broken in half on the classroom floor at random locations.
Peering down you could see dirt perhaps four feet below.
I made my way with trepidation toward a table in front of the classroom, where I was asked to place the extra suitcase I had kept tabs on before we departed Sacramento Airport some four days prior.
it was one of six suitcases.
They were stuffed with pencils and paper as well as crayons.
When they were opened, audible gasps came from the once silent class.
It was as if we had just opened a treasure chest of gold, silver, and diamonds.
In a way, what we had was even more precious.
And I began to see just how lucky I was to be an American citizen.
We were at the “poor school” in Chignahuapan, a town known for the manufacturer of glass Christmas ornaments in the State of Puebla, some 77 miles northeast of Mexico City.
It was a school where students rarely attended class beyond the third grade, unlike a more modern school elsewhere in the town.
It was for two reasons that were intertwined. At the time, the school provided paper and pencils only through the third grade.
Parents of older students had to pay for such supplies.
It was out of the financial reach of many families who often were forced to end their child’s education they placed a high value on because of lack of money and the need for help with the farm or other enterprise they relied on to keep their families fed and sheltered.
The school supplies that we had brought to Chignahuapan as part of a sister city exchange program with the City of Roseville were to be provided to kids in the fourth grade. It was so the expense of buying paper and pencils wouldn’t force a family decision to pull them out of school.
In that moment, I understood what the saying “it felt like being hit by a ton of bricks” meant.
I was in my sixth of eight years of being a trustee for the Western Placer Unified School District board that I was elected to as a 19 year-old.
The district in Lincoln in Placer County prior to Proposition 13 was what was known as a high tax, low wealth district.
It was identified as a “Serrano-Priest” district, education jargon for a financially poor school system.
To be honest, I never viewed the school district as being poor, although more than a few classless sports opponents — especially at football games on the high school level — liked to re-enforce they were wealthier and what we might say today lived in a less diverse community.
It is the realization of what we have in California — especially in the form of public schools — is pretty amazing and is the result of community investment through taxes that takes the edge off the annual tax bill, of which the first installment was paid at the start of November.
I am not a wild fan when it comes to taxes.
I don’t think anyone is.
But I get that we need them.
I don’t see them as a necessary evil.
I see them as an investment in public safety and health, our security as a nation, our future properties through education, and in financing things such as streets, and sewer systems to universal trauma centers that we couldn’t do as individuals or even through associations.
What I do expect, though, is value and results from taxes.
As an aside, that doesn’t mean carte blanche supporting every tax measure that comes along or financing every “great idea” that bubbles up when 120 men and women in Sacramento act more like drunken sailors that has been out to sea for two years going on a 48-hour spending spree instead of being deliberate and thoughtful stewards of public money.
I’m paying my fair share of three Manteca Unified School District bonds. It’s $260 a year for measures M, G and A.
That is on top of the $2,322 Proposition 13 mandate of which 51 percent of it eventually makes its way to schools.
I am well aware that government, which includes schools, does not run on property taxes alone. It is why there are sales and income taxes as well as franchise fees on everything from your PG&E bill to cable TV. That list also includes things such as hotel room tax.
What we pay for sewer, water, and garbage collections are not taxes per se but users fees meaning they cover the tab for services we use.
When done right, government resources are “wealth blind.”
The bond issues Manteca Unified asked for — and voters passed — are an example.
There will always be newer schools just like there will always be newer cars and newer houses.
Too often, we equate newness with being better or being the definition of parity.
It is a fallacy way too many of us buy into.
But older facilities and/or campuses can be on equal footing in terms of the facilities, staffing, equipment, and supplies they have even if one is 104 years old like Manteca High, or closing in in 20 years like Lathrop High.
You do not see stark and harsh disparities between campus facilities like what is still prevalent elsewhere even in this country.
And that was done by design.
With all of the moving parts and the fact it involves educating 25,000 students in a collective community of more than 120,000 people, Manteca Unified has strived to put older elementary schools such as Lincoln, Sequoia, Lathrop, and French Camp on equal opportunity footing when it comes to the type of facilities as newer campuses such as Veritas, Cowell, and Mossdale.
The projects being rolled out through the $260 million Measure A bond are designed to avoid a “ton of bricks” from slamming into you when you step on one of the district’s 30 plus campuses.
If you don’t confuse parity with newness, you will understand that Manteca Unified is light years away from school systems where what facilities and resources are provided are more often than not connected to how much wealth a particular segment within a community has.
It is why Lincoln School, in a neighborhood with a median household income of $60,000, has a multipurpose room with the same functionality as Veritas School in a neighborhood with a median household income of $108,000.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org