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Who will win the battle for Manteca USD classrooms?
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The battle for the classroom is about to begin.

Manteca Unified is at 96 percent capacity. That means there is space for another 1,000 students. Some schools are almost at capacity at all levels, others are not, while most have space here and there at various grade levels. And unless growth tailor fits the remaining classroom space regardless of where it is located it is quite possible the district could exceed space capacity with 600 or less additional students.

There are those who will call what is mentioned in the previous paragraph as being false. And they are right — to a point.

Manteca Unified does have more physical space to accommodate even more students. It is a point that the development community would be correct to point out.

But here’s the caveat. There are two parallel issues. One is the actual classroom capacity and the other is the classroom program capacity.

As Manteca Unified gears up to handle epic student growth during the next five or years how it does it could severely impact education in the classroom. Some would argue it is a quality issue others would dismiss it as a quantity issue.

The quantity issue is straightforward: How many students can you legally and physically place in a standard classroom?

The quality issue is open to value judgment: What is the best student to teacher ratio Manteca Unified can afford to support in a standard classroom?

What the 96 percent capacity refers to is the program capacity of district schools.

As an example, you might be able to fit 34 students in a first through third grade classroom but the Manteca Unified student cap is at 28 for this school year and drops down to 27 for the 2017-2018 school year. The district classroom average currently for first through third grades is at 26.3 students. Under the cap set by the school board and not number crunching from developers the Manteca Unified available capacity to handle first and third grade students next school year will decrease by 7 percent.

At this point several observations need to be made. It is obvious buyers of new homes aren’t worried too much about Manteca Unified warnings that their students may end up being bused to school away from their neighborhood or face the prospect of year round school in a few years. Several home builders have waiting lists pushing a year of buyers eager to purchase a home.

Those who live in Manteca Unified now may not like the idea of year round schools but they aren’t manning the barricades as it hasn’t happened yet.

If past experience is a gauge, both the newer buyers and existing residents will not only change their tune as time passes but will be relentless in expressing their displeasure when year round education and 16-mile one-way busing of their children becomes a reality.

The Manteca Educators Association and Manteca Unified School District board have agreed the current classroom students caps based on programming concerns — basically how teachers go about educating youth — are reasonable given the general fund.

Money, of course, enters into the equation but so does the quality of education and the ability of the largest number of students to thrive in a classroom.

The question that will soon be answered based on how well the Manteca Educators Association and Manteca Unified School District can hold their ground on program capacity versus physical capacity as growth gales pick up strength.

The school board’s proverbial hands are tied as state law dictates that they must handle growth while at the same time they have no authority to require developers to work with them to pony up the money needed to house the students the sale of their homes will generate.

That is the hand the school board has been dealt.

There are cards, however, they can play that can work toward preserving program capacity.

Besides making it clear as every nail is hammered what is at stake due to not having 100 percent of the funds needed to build facilities for additional students that will soon be flooding into the district within the next years, they can pursue other options.

It is why district staff is exploring all options to stretch what money is available without resorting to eroding and eventually scrapping class size reduction and even slipping into year round school and double sessions.

Those options run the gamut from pursuing district-run charter schools to adding permanent classrooms to existing campus to avoid the need of expensive infrastructure such as extending sewer, water and roads as well as avoiding building expensive support facilities such as multi-purpose rooms and cafeteria that a new campus would require.

On the high school level it means thinking of new possibilities on how Manteca High can be configured for its second hundred years.

If the school board finds a path that maximizes the expenditure of what school construction funds that they can secure while at the same time protect what goes on in the classroom they will have succeeded at putting students first and not simply jamming as many bodies as possible into a classroom.