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Manteca schools byte off more than they can afford
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They’re sleek. They’re cutting edge. They’re today.

But what tablets aren’t are teachers.

Rubbing elbows with the likes of Microsoft et al may have made more than a few people get caught up in the headiness of innovation to the point they are putting Manteca Unified on shaky ground financially and setting the stage for charging for home-to-school bus transportation and long-term teacher salary stagnation.

It is hard to ignore the lure of tablets in the hands of every Manteca Unified student just as it is hard for a techie to ignore the temptation of the iPhone 6.

But Manteca Unified isn’t a Silicon Valley start-up with boatloads of cash provided by venture capitalists to burn through. All of the $186.7 million they will receive this school year comes from taxpayers, including $170 million via Sacramento.

The money coming in this year is $9 million short of what the school district has budgeted to spend.

The $195 million in projected expenses includes $156 million in employee salaries and benefits. The school district took $14.1 million in “one-time money” and spent it buying tablets for students. The money being tapped is money saved on the backs of teachers and other employees over the past six or so years when the state withheld funding from this district in order to keep state finances on even keel during the Great Recession.

It was wise to decide to spend it on “one-time” expenses and not salaries, but that is not what happened.

The district decided to spend $14.1 million on technology that becomes obsolete and has to be updated every three to five years at the least. It is an added cost. The district was providing textbooks, transportation and such prior to the Great Recession. And even if the district eventually phases out textbooks it won’t cover the tab for tablet replacements.

Yes, it is frustrating that the state – read that taxpayers – “underfund” education. But the same can be said of our freeways, state parks, water systems, universities, and, according to federal judges, our prisons.

But reality is reality. Hopefully when students are taught problem-solving skills they aren’t encouraged by teachers in Manteca Unified to ignore real limitations such as funding availability.

This year’s budget is a prime example. The district is in deficit spending as they are spending $9 million more than they are taking in. They just happen to have $9 million in reserve to cover the shortfall. Teachers, more than anyone else, should understand what this will mean if the district continues deficit spending for a few more years. 

Complain all you want about how stunned you are that the state “grossly underfunds” education but it won’t change the fact Manteca Unified doesn’t have a printing press churning out greenbacks. And if money from the Measure G bond may reimburse the district for the technology upgrades they are now making with general fund revenue, it means the district is essentially borrowing to cover day-to-day expenses. Once you start doing that, it is pretty hard to stop.

Based on employee salaries coming in at $122.5 million, a one percent pay raise translates into an increased ongoing annual cost of $1.2 million. If the district has to spend a conservative $1 million annually going forward on tablet replacements and upgrades, and the district is already in deficit spending, just where do you think the money is going  to come from to pay Microsoft, Panasonic and others?

It will come out of the available pot of money for teacher and support staff’s future increases in salaries and benefits.

The Going Digital initiative is reckless from a financial perspective.

It puts emphasis in gadgets and not what really counts – teachers.

Yes, not every child has access to a smartphone or a computer. But isn’t this the same district that rolled out programs by noting they talked to real world employers and they said they needed graduates with aptitude and attitude with a willingness to learn? Even Silicon Valley types have made it clear attitude and aptitude is essential.

Yes, everything today involves computers. But good workers and graduates that can support themselves with jobs and their future families need to have skill sets that go beyond a familiarity with keyboarding and Internet surfing to tackle an assignment.

Good teachers do a lot more than drill. Good teachers will also view the tablet as another tool to help them teach.

But it is unfair to position teachers to effectively put their future pay hikes at risk by default to take the brunt of paying the necessary upgrades and replacements of those tablets given the district’s struggles to cover the cost of replacements for much less expensive textbooks as well as provide all the necessary classroom supplies.

And it would be foolish and reckless for taxpayers to get in the habit of going into debt via bonds to provide the district with funds that are paid over the course of 30 years to cover classroom “equipment” in the form of tablets. They need replacement much quicker than other classroom equipment allowed under state bond laws such as desks.

Yes, we all have a stake in education. But we also have a responsibility to not spend away our children’s future.

It takes a village to raise a child. But if that village spends itself into financial oblivion it won’t be able to do much of anything let alone educate a child.



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.