On Campus: Education putting up big numbers for Stanislaus County

09/10/2013 7:00 PM

09/12/2013 7:40 AM

Education builds a better work force, sure, but it’s an economic powerhouse in its own right.

School spending pumps more than $1 billion into the Stanislaus County economy.

The service-centered industry employs 10,115 people countywide. That compares with 3,300 employed by the largest private employer, E.&J. Gallo Winery, according to figures compiled by Don Gatti, fiscal overseer for the Stanislaus County Office of Education. Gatti collected the information for the Modesto Chamber of Commerce’s State of Education breakfast last month and repeated it for the Stanislaus County Board of Education on Tuesday.

Adding it all up, he said, “I was overwhelmed by what a big industry this is.”

Plus, education brings in lots of state money. “We’re the perfect consumers. We tend to spend every penny we get and we spend it in the local area,” Gatti said.

Here are some more Stanislaus County numbers of note:

• 105,000 students attend school in the county, about 21 percent of the population.
• 25 school districts divide up the county, from Modesto City Schools with 30,000 students to tiny Knights Ferry with 90 kids.
• 203 schools serve the county: 109 elementary, 25 middle and 21 high school, 26 charter schools, 21 alternative schools, one special ed.
• $550 million was cut from school budgets or lost with dropping enrollment during the recession.

School lunches – now lunch, breakfast and after-school snacks – added up to $42 million last year. “It’s likely our food services is larger than all the restaurants combined,” Gatti said.

Education regulation is an industry of its own, enforcing 18 volumes of Education Code and laws that, among other things, prohibit contracting out services to save money, he said.

Funding for operating expenses and construction work separately, with building programs unfolding years after the planning stages. As the recession cut school money for staff and materials, huge building projects hammered away at the public perception that education funding had fallen.

Gatti called the local control funding formula put in place this year “the biggest reform in 40 years.” Because the system focuses extra funding on poor students, foster children and English learners, most of our districts will come out ahead (all but three).

Gatti calculates the change will add a collective $38.5 million in education spending here this year and $327 million more per year at full implementation. “It’s going to be really interesting to see how local districts provide new programs to target those students,” he said.

The county office is one of the three that will not benefit. Because it received more for its at-risk students historically, it will remain at the same funding level while poorer districts rise.

“I see us tightening our belt. I do not see us gasping for air,” Gatti said. “We’re just going to have to reinvent ourselves.”

• • • 

Other newsy notes from the Stanislaus County Board of Education meeting:

• The Rim fire came within 13 miles of the Foothills Horizons outdoor education camp attended by sixth-graders for decades. Nothing was damaged and no camps were in session during the fire, said Bob Gausman of the county office.
• Frank Yapp, commandant of the junior high Tactical Charter Academy, is pursuing his doctorate through Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, using research done at the alternative education campus for his thesis on recidivism at military-style programs that focus on character education.

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