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Two options: Survive & thrive or give into the darkness
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Do not fear the darkness.

It is the message being delivered loud and clear by people entrusted to educate our children, deliver essential services that we as individuals can't provide, and to prep for future economic growth.

The path of least resistance would simply allow the school district and the city to be consumed by the fear of shrinking revenue, the dicey economy, and increasing demand from the proverbial safety net being stretched way too thin.

That is happening. Although some may see it differently, fiscally prudent moves by the Manteca Unified School District and Manteca City Council have created something unique in California these days: Local government agencies laying the foundation for a better tomorrow.

It is what AgVenture involving third graders at the Manteca Unified district farm was all about Wednesday. Manteca Unified - despite operating with 35 percent less revenue than four years ago on top of rising costs - hasn't thrown in the towel. Instead they keep exploring innovative options and pursuing those that make sense to improve the quality of education.

Manteca Unified's performance in sending graduates to two-year and four-year institutions of higher learning is decent. But what happens afterwards isn't. The drop-out rate especially at two-year colleges - where the bulk of marketable vocation skills are picked up - is dismal.

It is why the school board is exploring a charter vocation school for grades 11 to 13 to secure an Associate in Arts or Sciences in specific disciplines and ultimately have skills that will help them land jobs.

The City of Manteca also hasn't taken a "woe is me" attitude either.

It is true cuts, streamlining, and rethinking how basic services are delivered had to be done and was painful.

That hasn't stopped them from moving forward with ways to enhance the quality of life down the road and to plant the seeds for economic growth.

The handiwork includes securing the future South County government center for San Joaquin Council on Daniels Street just west of Airport Way to creating a family entrainment zone west of the Big League Dreams complex. It includes clearing the way for a major employment center to dovetail with an expanded Union Pacific intermodal facility.

Planning for the future requires more than just lines on a map and words on pieces of paper. It is not good enough to say you can create a better mouse trap to snag jobs. You have to put a mouse trap in place.

That requires adequate water, sewer capacity, roads, and putting in place the type of synergy a community needs to land private sector investment that helps make it better immune when it comes to economic downturns.

In a way, the economic downturn and the foreclosure crisis have been a godsend.

It has forced most folks - including local government - to take a good, long hard look at how they are operating either as a family, business, or a provider of services.

It is a version of economic Darwinism. Those that do what they need to do not just to survive but thrive ultimately will come out of this stronger.

Cities and school districts - just like the rest of us - can't keep doing the same thing they've done for the past 20 plus years.

Times have changed and they will never be the same again.

That doesn't equate the future being gloom - far from it. In the depths of the Great Recession who could have foreseen the 1950s and 1960s that delivered unparalleled solid growth and substantial gains in the standard of living? Someone did because if they didn't, we never would have gotten to where we did.

Adversity has always been the major agent of change throughout the annals of civilization.

Fear, on the other hand, has been proven as a self-fulfilling prophecy.