We are told 28-year-old carpet kept together with duct tape is deteriorating the quality of classroom education in Manteca Unified.
We are told that again and again whenever pressing health and safety needs are raised. Where is the dry rot? Where is the lead paint? Where is the asbestos? Where are the leaky roofs? Where are the crumbling walls?
Better yet, where did $3,370,977 go?
That’s the amount of money that Manteca Unified received from the State of California that would have been earmarked for deferred maintenance between 2008 and 2012. It is delineated in four fiscal year reports available in PDF format on the Office of Public School Construction website. Gov. Jerry Brown, in response to the state budget crisis and lobbying from school districts across California, suspended the use of annual deferred maintenance allocations and required local matching requirements. Instead, the money the state restricted for deferred maintenance was sent to the district “for any educational purpose” the local district saw fit.
Apparently the district saw fit to go out and buy $14.1 million in computer tablets for students instead of replacing carpet patched together with duct tape. They then elected to use 28-year-old carpet kept together by duct tape as the shining example as why they need a $159 million school bond passed on Nov. 4.
It shows the same fiscal irresponsibility as having a leaky roof and taking money out of your household budget that had been set aside for maintenance and repairs and blowing it all on 60-inch screen TVs for every room in the house and then going to your banker begging for a loan to fix your roof.
Making matters worse, supporters of Measure G are parroting the line that the district is in deplorable shape when it comes to deferred maintenance issues because the state is no longer giving them money for that purpose. The state is still giving them the money with no strings attached but instead of taking care of deteriorating carpet and such the district was caught up in the headiness of rubbing elbows with Microsoft and Panasonic.
The reason why teachers have to use duct tape to keep 28-year-old carpet together is because the district used money that should have gone to replace the carpet to buy computer tablets for 23,000 students.
As a result they have no money for deferred maintenance.
The district practiced no prudence or restraint whatsoever. They could easily have targeted the tablets to just high school students or seventh through 12th grade.
They are guilty of practicing the same reckless financial behavior that set up the housing collapse that triggered the Great Recession. They want everything and they want it now.
Instead of recovering from the recession first, taking care of pressing maintenance needs and even being more generous with teacher and classified salaries as well as restoring counselors and librarian positions the district opted to go bananas on a Going Digital binge costing $30 million.
It is the real reason they need the school bond passed. They blew the maintenance money. They went on a shopping spree.
While it is true there is remodeling and new construction such as for vocational programs involved in the bond, the consultant told them essentially they’d be stupid to explain that is where the bulk of what the $159 million will go toward if the bond is passed.
The reason is simple. People who may not support new construction will see the value in taking care of what they already have money invested in. Too bad the district didn’t see the value of doing just that.
So now they want even more money to play with.
It’s hard to say no to a school bond. After all, it’s for the kids.
But just like with kids, there is a time for tough love.
The district has made some bad decisions when it comes to deferred maintenance. They now are throwing the bad decision as represented by 28-year old carpets in classrooms held together by duct tape into the faces of taxpayers and parents to convince them that despite the district’s best efforts they had no money to take care of the situation.
Hogwash. They had the money. They just opted to spend it on something else.
Now their solution is to ask for a 30-year bond — and not a limited tax override — to pay for maintenance issues and computer equipment that no sane baker would give you anything longer than a seven year loan, if that, to pay for them.
It’s not a question of rewarding bad financial decisions by giving the school district $159 million for a bond issue that talks about generalities in spending but nothing specific that says 28-year-old carpet will be replaced.
It is more of a question of compounding bad decisions by throwing more money at the situation.
Local control — read that the ability for school districts to spend tax dollars as they see fit without any strings attached — hasn’t worked so well in Manteca judging the sudden deferred maintenance emergency.
We know that as the district had $3,370,977 or roughly $840,000 a year for the past four years they could have used to address pressing health and safety issues as personified by aging carpet and duct tape but opted to spend it on gleaming new tablets instead, Meanwhile, they figured they could roll the dice and get the carpets replaced as well as cover the rest of the $30 million Going Digital tab by telling voters that the schools are falling apart.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.