Ripon’s small town feel is in jeopardy.
Elementary schools under 500 students could soon be history.
It is all because of Manteca.
And — arguably the Ripon Unified School District as well — by either design or be accepting it as fate.
Manteca growth, by the time 2028 rolls around, could add 860 students to Ripon Unified with roughly 600 of those students at the elementary level.
That’s 260 students Ripon Unified expected the now built-out Orchard Park neighborhood in Manteca would send their way plus another 600 from the Hat Ranch project that is now in the approval process in Manteca.
There is the potential for significantly more Ripon Unified students than 860 to come from Manteca growth. More about that later.
The 860 students between Orchard Park and the Hat Ranch would include roughly 600 elementary students dispersed between the five existing elementary campuses in Ripon Unified would increase enrollment by an average of 120 students at Park View, Colony Oak, Weston, Ripona, and Ripon Elementary.
Roughly 260 Manteca students would end up at Ripon High.
That means without counting any Ripon growth, elementary schools that now hover around 450 students in Ripon will be forced to swell in size to almost 600 students.
And while there is a Ripon Unified school site planned for the Hat Ranch to house 600 elementary students, there is no funding mechanism in place to build it.
That means existing Ripon schools for a significant amount of time would need more portable classrooms at each campus if current space can’t absorb the coming wave of Manteca students.
And whether that Ripon elementary school site within Manteca’s city limits will be built in even the next 20 years is an open ended question.
Manteca Unified school board members a few years ago weighed the cost of new elementary and high school campuses against available funding sources and bit the bullet.
They decided to expand existing elementary campuses from an 800 student average up to 1,080 students. The high schools are going from 1,750 to 2,200 students.
The decision allows Manteca to avoid expensive infrastructure associated with development of a new campus and to maximum large investments such as a multipurpose room and such that a free standing collection of classrooms require.
It also means clusters of “brick and mortar” classrooms to accommodate growth have a higher chance of being added to existing campuses instead of portables.
The future of Ripon’s highly prized smaller elementary school campuses isn’t an issue garnering much attention in the Ripon Unified School board election on Nov. 8.
It should be noted Ripon has already paid a price in terms of lucrative sales tax dollars to protect the community’s small town feel.
Ripon, more than 15 years ago, repelled the barbarians at the gate.
Walmart wanted to build a store a tad larger than Manteca’s in an almond orchard just north of the Flying J Travel Center.
Many Ripon residents saw it as an assault on their sense of community and lifestyle. If Walmart established a beachhead for big box retailers, the reasoning was downtown was doomed, growth would surge, traffic would explode, and crime would go up.
Ultimately the community was “saved” thanks to careful legal maneuvering capping the size of future retail ventures.
Ripon may have won the battle but ultimately may lose the war.
And the reason is not because of some bottom-line driven corporation headquartered 1,500 miles away in Bentonville, Arkansas but because of a next door neighbor they grew up with together.
The City of Manteca over the years has annexed land to the southeast. It included a large swath of acreage that is within the boundaries of the Ripon Unified School District.
As ludicrous as it might seem, the Manteca High campus is within 1½ miles of existing tract homes in the Ripon Unified School District.
At first, this did not please buyers of many of the homes that were literally within a two-block walking distance of Manteca Unified’s Woodward Elementary School because their children had to be bused roughly 8 miles one way to elementary campuses in Ripon.
That happened not simply because 122-year old school district lines drawn up when you could have put the population of both communities into today’s Ripon High Abeyta-Horton Gym and still have empty spaces in the bleachers.
Less than 15 years ago a previous Ripon Unified School District Board gave the thumbs down to a developer’s proposal to switch the land they were building homes on to the Manteca Unified School District.
It was a decision driven in part by the need to secure money to keep the Ripon Unified system on solid financial grounds. The money that pays the bills is doled out by the state based on average daily attendance.
It was also driven by a sense of community pride that ultimately could backfire and make Ripon less like Mayberry and more like Manteca.
To get an idea of the price that will be paid for that decision, the next time you are driving north on Highway 99 toward Manteca, look off to the left where the line of palm trees leads your eyes to the ultimate McMansion — the 30,000-square foot Hat Mansion.
Development plans are in motion to replace the estate and mansion with 734 homes.
The area between the Hat Ranch and the freeway is zoned — based on previously approved development plans — for 4,198 housing units. Of those, 58 percent are within the Ripon Unified School District boundaries. Standard yield rates mean those homes will generate 1,150 more students. Add in the Hat Ranch and existing housing and the number of students living within the City of Manteca and attending Ripon Unified schools will likely reach 2,000. Currently Ripon Unified has 3,300 students.
There are also areas with the Ripon Unified School District boundaries that are closer to developed City of Manteca infrastructure than City of Ripon infrastructure and in neither city’s current sphere of influence.
Manteca growth having an oversized impact on Ripon schools does not have to be the fate of Ripon Unified.
A cumbersome process known as de-annexation requiring an election of the impacted households that exist in Manteca could be pursued.
The real question the Ripon community, and not the Ripon Unified school board, has to ask themselves is what do they want for Ripon?
Not only does it have to be a community-based decision to make such a move but it requires the community applying relentless pressure if it stands a chance of happening.
And while jettisoning the City of Manteca neighborhoods existing or planned by turning them over to Manteca Unified may just slow Ripon Unified’s march to 5,000 students by two to three decades, it would have one lasting effect.
Regardless of what size the school district grows to with only one city to serve there would only be one unified community known as Ripon.
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