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West Contra Costa Unified School District Bond Issue, Measure H (June 2014)

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A West Contra Costa Unified School District Bond Issue, Measure H ballot question was on the June 3, 2014 election ballot for voters in the West Contra Costa Unified School District in Contra Costa County, California, where it was defeated.

Had it been approved, Measure H would have authorized the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) to increase its debt by $270 million through issuing general obligation bonds in that amount. This bond debt would not have been paid off until 2055, costing taxpayers an estimated additional $36 per year for every $100,000 of assessed valuation on top of the taxes being paid already.[1]

In January 2014, the school board polled the community and decided, based on the results of the poll, that there was sufficient voter support to continue a building program designed to upgrade all district school facilities. The board subsequently placed Measure H on the June ballot as the next step in that plan.[2]

At the time of the election, voters had passed six bond measures over the past decade, most recently in 2012 and 2010.[2]

Election results

Measure H
ResultVotesPercentage
Defeatedd No15,68553.70%
Yes 13,525 46.30%
Election results from Contra Costa County Elections Office

Text of measure

Ballot question

The question on the ballot:[3]

To repair and upgrade neighborhood school, shall West Contra Costa Unified School District improve earthquake safety, seniors and handicap accessibility; update science, computer labs, remove asbestos, hazardous materials and lead-based paint; bring all West County schools up to the same quality; meet fire codes, construct, equip facilities, thereby increasing public safety, by issuing $270 million of bonds the State cannot take away, at legal rates, with strict citizens oversight, annual audits and no money for pensions or administrators' salaries?[4]

Impartial analysis

The following impartial analysis of Measure H was prepared by the office of the county counsel:[5]

The Board of Directors of the West Contra Costa Unified School District has adopted a resolution proposing to issue and sell general obligation bonds. This ballot measure asks voters to decide whether the District should be authorized to issue and sell bonds in an amount up to $270,000,000. The measure provides that proceeds from the sale of bonds will generally be used to finance school facilities improvements, including renovating, repairing and upgrading buildings; installing and upgrading safety systems; and upgrading technology facilities and equipment. The specific projects are set forth in the Project List attached to the Board's resolution. The proceeds from the sale of bonds may be used only for those purposes. Approval of the measure does not guarantee that the proposed projects listed on the Project List will be funded beyond the local revenues generated by the measure. The measure provides that some improvements may be delayed or may not be completed, depending on improvement costs and whether the District can acquire State funds.

Approval of this measure authorizes the District to issue and sell the bonds under authority of the California Education and Government Codes. Bonds could have a maturity of up to 25 years if issued under the Education Code, or up to 40 years if issued under the Government Code. Under State law, the bonds could have an interest rate of up to 12% per year. The District's resolution states that before the District could issue bonds under this measure, it would need to obtain a State waiver of the District's bonded indebtedness limit.[4]

—Contra Costa County Counsel[5]

Support

The following material supporting Measure H was taken from the email forum website of Richmond City Councilor Tom Butt:[2]:

Measure H is the capstone in an ambitious and successful program to rebuild or replace all of West Contra Costa’s public schools, including even some charter schools funded by the WCCUSD.

Far from being “free spending,” the current board has exercised a level of fiscal restraint and responsibility not seen in decades. The District paid off its debt to the state from the 1991 bankruptcy seven years early, eliminating a crushing interest burden, and it ended lifetime health benefits. All the savings went into the classroom. The financial community rewarded this new fiscal restraint by raising the District’s bond rating from A to A+. The Contra Costa Civil Grand Jury commended the WCCUSD for its detailed performance audits and websites with detailed program information available to the public.

Programs and budgets for new and rehabilitated schools are tightly controlled and based on detailed and voluminous facility standards that describe every space, its square footage, finishes, furnishings and equipment. These standards have been developed with input from teachers, parents, architects, administrators and education experts. Some of the reasons that construction budgets may be higher than comparable schools elsewhere include implementation of the latest trends in using schools as community facilities rather than simply education facilities. The newer projects typically include small medical and dental clinics for students as well as multi-purpose facilities for community events. Shared use of these facilities including shared use of sports and recreation facilities provides dual use and saves money for cities where schools are located. Facilities are also being built to higher standards that save energy, reduce maintenance and life cycle costs and provided a healthier learning environment with better air quality and natural lighting, thus enhancing learning and saving future operational funds for classroom teaching rather than building maintenance. The District has replaced 90% of often aging temporary portables with state-of-the-art permanent classrooms.

The District’s shovel ready projects have garnered over $150 million in state matching funds, thus leveraging what the taxpayers have contributed to the program. This is the largest matching fund payout for any district in the state except for the massive Los Angeles Unified School District, which is 25 times the size of the WCCUSD.[4]

—Email forum website of Richmond City Councilor Tom Butt[2]

Critique of opposition

The following statement about the organized opposition to Measure H was taken from an article by West Contra Costa Unified School District School Board Member Madeline Kronenberg:[6]

In April, a group funded by the California Charters Schools Association Political Action Committee initiated the NO ON H campaign. This effort is spearheaded by out-of-town consultants bankrolled by (among others) local charter school executives and philanthropists (Jennifer Moses - Caliber Charter School executive; Steve Chamberlin - Summit Charter School underwriter).

Our district has been unusually cooperative in building new charter schools (note the shared campus being constructed for Leadership Charter High School). We have, however, not approved the last two charter applications - Caliber and Summit (coincidentally the schools that contributed to the building program opposition campaign). This is the first time the Charter School Association Political Action Committee has chosen to oppose a bond measure designed to build new schools in low income communities. Historically, they have only used their considerable resources to oppose candidates they viewed as unfriendly to charter expansion.

The charter school world has become increasingly proactive in targeting potential schools for charter network takeover (see their website). This website shows the strategy in place to support charter networks in identifying vulnerable school communities (right now only results for Oakland Unified are available – but clearly other districts will be added).

Interestingly, the Charter School Political Action Committee found an ally in the West County Times. The Committee’s strategy has been to send out mailers quoting the Times editorials and articles regarding Measure H.

The Times editorial page has shown a consistent lack of journalistic ethics in their manner of opposition to Measure H. It is one thing to say you oppose additional taxes, it is another to say that the School Board was “unethical,” “deceptive,” or “possibly illegal.” These completely unjustified attention-grabbing terms were used in headlines by the Times and then regurgitated in mailers by the Charter Schools.

Richmond City Councilor Tom Butt called their opposition "inexplicable, because the bond program has also funded charter school construction in the District, including College Pre Charter School located in the rehabilitated Maritime Child Care Center and Leadership Public School."[4]

—WCCUSD School Board Member Madeline Kronenberg[6]

A post on Tom Butt's email forum also criticized the Contra Costa Times for publicizing estimated construction costs that were purely speculative, as none of the projects in question had gone through the bidding process.[2]

Opposition

Arguments against

Opponents argued that the district had already borrowed far too much money and was setting property tax rates too high, creating an unreasonable burden on district taxpayers.[1]

Editorial

  • The Contra Costa Times editorial board accused the West Contra Costa Unified School District officials of misleading voters and of being greedy, asking for far too much money. A portion of the editorial said:

First, there's the amount of the bonds on the ballot. Anderson and Harter say the measure would enable the district to float $270 million of bonds. They don't mention that voters in six previous elections already authorized borrowing more than $1.6 billion. Measure H would bring the total to $1.9 billion.

Of that, the district has already borrowed more than $1 billion. No other K-12 district in the state, with the exception of the much-larger Los Angeles and San Diego districts, has borrowed more since 1999.

Second, there's the cost to taxpayers. Anderson and Harter tell voters that repayment of the bonds on the June ballot is estimated to increase property taxes no more than $36 annually for every $100,000 of assessed valuation. That would work out to about $77 a year for an average home in the district assessed at $215,000.

They don't mention that the district's own projections show that debt wouldn't be paid off until 2055. Or that the total cost, including payments on bonds already approved, would reach nearly 10 times as much.

In the top year, 2017, the average homeowner would pay $760 just for school bonds. Owners of property assessed at more than $215,000 would pay proportionately more. For example, the owner of a home assessed at $500,000 would pay $1,764.

[...]

In a high-poverty region, where the leaders of the largest city, Richmond, are rightfully concerned about homeowners losing their properties to foreclosure due to inability to pay, ballooning tax payments only make the problem worse. Again, students deserve nice school environments. But that must be balanced against the cost -- the full cost.[4]

—Contra Costa Times editorial board[1]

Similar measures

Related measures

Defeatedd West Contra Costa Unified School District parcel tax, Measure M (November 2010)
Approveda West Contra Costa Unified School District bond proposition, Measure E (November 2012)
Approveda West Contra Costa Unified School District bond proposition, Measure D (June 2010)
Approveda West Contra Costa Unified School District Parcel Tax, Measure D (November 2008)

See also

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