It’s clear that a lot of people see the value in having brick and mortar school campuses.
There’s nothing like a pandemic and closing down school campuses for six months and counting to realize the Internet and software programs are not going to make physical schools and in-person teaching absolute anytime soon.
It is against the backdrop of many kids falling behind, parents struggling to juggle work around supervising their children learning online, growing issues with a lack of social interaction that doesn’t require a mode, and growing concerns that a learning deficit is growing that may not be overcome that Manteca Unified is seeking voter approval of a $260 million bond issue on Nov. 3.
The bond is designed to address a chunk of $409 million in needs to make sure existing facilities will continue to be able to serve students and the community for another 50 plus years. A large proportion of the district’s 30 campuses are between 40 and 60 years old.
The school district, just like a prudent homeowner, has performed ongoing maintenance. But like the rest of us when wiring, plumbing, roofs, major mechanical issues, and such occur we don’t have the money on hand.
Think of it this way. If you have a house that is 50 years old consisting of 960 square feet — the average size of the 1,460 Manteca Unified classrooms — and occupied by four people during that time it is likely to have wear and tear issues and challenges such as wiring that isn’t up to par for 21st century needs.
Now consider having 30 people using that house for 50 years.
Keep in mind that this is not just any old house. It’s the school house.
There is a reason why in the early days of Manteca and Lathrop the first community facility of any type that was established was a school house. They were built before cemeteries were established, formal streets were created or even shared water well systems and sanitation facilities were even on the radar.
When an area in the West got a school house, it was considered a community even if the residents were strung apart at half mile to mile intervals on vast farms.
Schools were more than just a place to help educate the future workforce needed to build communities. It is where meetings were held to address community-wide concerns. Church services were conducted in school houses as often were funerals. Everything from community dances to Christmas pageants took place at those original schools.
And when disaster struck — such as the 1918 flu epidemic —Manteca’s school was turned into a makeshift hospital.
Today schools are used for 4-H and Scout meetings, a wide array of organized youth and adult sports leagues, meeting places for start-up churches, and much more.
During the pandemic they have been used to feed children and as a resource center for families struggling to deal with the fallout.
Investing in the continued viability of existing school facilities is key not just for the education and the mental health of youth as the strains created by the pandemic has underscored but also for the community as a whole.
Schools are part of the essential fabric that creates a strong community.
The timing of the bond issue might strike you as bad given economic uncertainty amid challenging times.
It’s likely what many in Manteca and Lathrop voters thought 99 years ago when they were asked to approve bonds and for the new high school district. The community was still struggling with the economic aftermath of World War I and the flu epidemic had recently ended.
Yet in the middle of uncertain times the community voted to bond themselves to build Manteca Union High School.
What were they thinking?
The answer is simple. They were looking for a better future.
The school they built lasted for less than 50 years. The construction of the era — while exceedingly superior to the clapboard and lumber construction of the original one and two classroom school houses more than 120 years ago — was no match for the march of time.
If schools were static and never modernized they’d be no science labs, kindergarten-style classrooms, or computer labs. High schools would be playing basketball games on a stage in an auditorium with an orchestra pit separating them from the crowd.
The $260 million bond is not to replace what Manteca Unified has. It is to assure the continued viability and functionality of facilities as well as the ability to conduct educational programs that reflect current needs and realities.
The school board could easily have waited two years. That is the next time a bond election can be conducted given state law requires the take place with a general election to assure the greatest potential voter turnout. By waiting until 2022 the current board could have passed the buck but in doing so the most pressing needs could easily have gotten to the point no-choice emergency fixes that would cut into the cut into the district’s ability to fund classroom learning would be needed before then.
An example is how crews prepping to build the new gym at Manteca High came across frayed buried power lines that were on the verge of failing. Had they occurred when school was in session, power would have been knocked out to the Winters Gym and nearby facilities for weeks. The $10,000 fix now being conducted that included associated equipment as well that was near the end of its useful life would easily have been five times that amount as it would have been done on an emergency basis that would have required locating the source of the problem as well. It also would have disrupted the education of 1,500 students for weeks.
It is just one example Aaron Bowers who serves as the Director of Operations and Facilities for the Manteca Unified School District can offer of needed replacement work that is either behind walls or buried in the ground that is needed to keep schools functioning.
The cost of protecting the community’s investment for a large chunk of school facilities that are 40 to 60 years old will not exceed $45 per $100,000 in assessed valuation.
The median assessed valuation (not market value that most of the time is significantly higher) of a home in San Joaquin County is $318,500. That would mean passage of Measure A would impose a maximum of $143.37 in annual taxes on a home assessed at $318,000. Given the last bonds issued by Manteca Unified thanks in large part to its well-managed financial status that secured it significantly higher bond ratings than most school districts in the state were sold at a cost that was 20 percent below the maximum authorized, the odds are the cost of the bonds will turn to be less than $45 per $100,000 of assessed valuation.
If $143 more a year is too daunting for some to support the bond measure it is understandable.
But in the overall scheme of things it makes sense. Not only does it protect our collective investment in essential community facilities and keeps them functioning for another 50 plus years it is also now a cost-effective time to do the work based on the bond market and favorable construction costs.
Measure A is about the future of our community just like that first high school bond election a century ago.