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Get a Jump on Election: Read the Ballot Language for WCCUSD Measures

Voters who want to get up to speed or plan to vote early can read the ballot language of the West County school board's bond measure and proposed property tax extension.

It's often said that voters pay no attention to fall elections until at least after Labor Day, but the Contra Costa County Elections Division gets prepared much sooner.

That holiday milestone has passed, so more voters are beginning to pay attention to the various campaigns. Some will vote early, and some will wait to see how the campaigns shake out. Either way, informational tools are available.

Voters in the West Contra Costa Unified School District can start now in the process. Below is the approved ballot language for two measures. One is a $360 million bond measure for school facilities. The other asks voters to extend an existing properly parcel tax for five years.

Measure E, the bond measure, requires approval of 55 percent of votes cast to pass. Measure G, the property tax extension, requires a two-thirds majority to pass.

For the eager early-birds, the first day to vote by mail will be Oct. 8 and the last is Oct. 30. The last day to register to vote in the 2012 election is Oct. 22. The election itself is Nov. 6.

The following is from the website of the county elections division, which also has the language for all measures in Contra Costa County.

BOND MEASURE E
WEST CONTRA COSTA UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT

To make schools safe, complete essential health/safety repairs, qualify for State matching grants, shall West Contra Costa Unified School District upgrade schools for earthquake safety and handicap accessibility, remove asbestos, upgrade science labs, restrooms, vocational classrooms, technology and energy systems to reduce costs, install lighting and security systems, and acquire, repair, construct, equipment, sites and facilities, by issuing $360,000,000 in bonds within legal rates and bonding capacity limits with independent audits, citizen oversight, and no money for administrators’ salaries?


PARCEL TAX MEASURE G
WEST CONTRA COSTA UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT

To maintain quality education with local funding the State cannot take away, including protecting core academics – reading, writing, math, science, attracting and retaining quality teachers, providing lower class sizes for the youngest children, preparing students for college and the workforce, and improving safety on and around school campuses, shall West Contra Costa Unified School District renew its existing parcel tax for five years, keeping the current rate, with no funds for administrator salaries, exempting seniors and requiring citizen oversight?

Will you vote on these measures or not? Is the ballot language sufficient for you to make up your mind about how to vote?

Local Mom September 07, 2012 at 04:46 AM
Sure hoping the District starts its campaign soon, given that voting by mail starts in a month. Also hope the campaign consists of more than annoyingly glossy flyers.
Marty September 07, 2012 at 05:41 PM
The bond measure language "within legal rates and bonding capacity limits" is misleading. WCCUSD has twice asked for, and received, state BOE waivers to exceed the statutory bonding authority (ratio of debt to property values) and is now over twice that limit. There is also little, if any, disclosure of the amortized costs to retire this debt. Recent articles have highlighted other CA school districts that have issued Capital Appreciation Bonds (CABs) that cost $10 to repay for every $1 borrowed (and are forbidden in some states for this reason). Do WCCUSD bonds fall in this category? Is the WCCUSD bond program the next Lehman Brothers?
Chris Kelley September 08, 2012 at 01:20 PM
Mr. Shea: The ballot language is not at all sufficient for me to make up my mind about how to vote on these measures. I know nothing about them and would like to see more comprehensive explanations of Measure E and Measure G, as well as arguments for for and against each of them. Could you write an article about this? Many voters, like me, would appreciate it.
Sarah Creeley September 09, 2012 at 01:43 AM
I agree with Chris's idea!
Charles Cowens September 21, 2012 at 06:41 AM
One thing to look at for bond measure E is to look at what the school bond tax rates are for other districts to see how we compare. Here is a table comparing WCCUSD to Contra Costa and Northern Alameda County showing how we compare for the last tax cycle BEFORE the extra $48/$100K of the new measure E would jack it up even higher: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AhWrZfvAcOrPdHRZSk5jSGlaanFjWlRmYXJUMHl2OFE
Giorgio C. September 21, 2012 at 01:10 PM
Charley, You are on the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee. These are the sorts of issues that need to be addressed by the committee. Has this been discussed by you, Mr. Studdiford and everyone else? If not, I don't want Mr. Studdiford on our school board. These are the very sorts of things that a fiscally responsible school board member would make a priority. The verbiage cited mentions removal of asbestos. I would like to see the official WCCUSD risk assessment document regarding this item. Where is the asbestos located? How much of a hazard is it currently? Have facilities been quarantined as a result of this? Very often, asbestos is not harmful if in a stable setting. In fact, it is the removal process that is the most hazardous. Has the CBOC requested all risk assessment documents regarding the asbestos hazards found throughout the WCCUSD? Some asbestos information http://www.naturalhandyman.com/iip/infsisters/infasbestos.html If there are safety issues that need to be resolved, then I want us to provide the necessary funding. When I taught, we had an unsafe situation at Richmond High that has now been addressed, possibly as a result of bond monies. We must fund safety. The numbers you cite call for an explanation. I should be able to find it in your CBOC meeting minutes. If the CBOC has not provided such, then I am concerned. No disrespect to you, Sir. I see you as something akin to a whistle blower. Thanks for sharing.
Michael O'Connor September 21, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Asbestos is removed by State licensed contractors in accordance with standard best practices. Anyone following the process is aware of this. The CBOC meeting times have been public record always, but few attend. This disinterest is evidence that the WCCUSD must be broken up as all the school projects will soon be completed, and there is a chance for smaller, local districts to succeed where the WCCUSD has failed.
Ira Sharenow September 22, 2012 at 12:23 AM
Charles, thanks. Your spreadsheet really helps me understand the issue. If it is easy for you to do so, can you please provide information on school closings and their subsequent sale? Given the sharp reduction in enrollment in the WCC Regional School District, I assume quite a few schools were closed and then sold, some when the real estate market was hot. Can you track the district’s real estate dealings for the last 10-20 years (or whatever is convenient)? Below is ballot language information http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/California_2012_ballot_propositions http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/November_6,_2012_election_in_California http://www.cocovote.us/content.aspx?id=153
Charles Cowens September 22, 2012 at 07:05 AM
Michael, "all school projects" will never be completed as long as people are willing to keep voting for more bonds.
Charles Cowens September 22, 2012 at 07:28 AM
Under the current leadership of the CBOC, the primary goal seems to be to protect the bond construction program not to oversee it. In fact, some of us involved in the committee minority have discussed at various points establishing a shadow CBOC that would actually focus on oversight. However, this kind of group would suffer from the disadvantage of being a private organization. What I can do is ask for the staff to go through the rationale for the project list as a discussion item for the next CBOC meeting. Keep in mind that no need for a new bond has ever been discussed at any CBOC meeting before this ballot measure and I've never seen an agenda item for the full Board that said "Do we need another bond?" It's possible the budget subcommittee had agendaized this at some point. The minutes are online.
Charles Cowens September 22, 2012 at 07:40 AM
Ira, I'll see what I can find out about closures. As a cynical (but cheerfully cynical) person, I've always felt that the real reason for the pivot on school closures and the sudden elimination of the main State debt leading to the dismissal of the State Trustee, thus removing the main obstacle to the pivot, was to provide a rationale for yet another bond.
Michael O'Connor September 22, 2012 at 12:41 PM
Mr. Cowens displays a complete misunderstanding of the functions of the CBOC by writing, "Under the current leadership of the CBOC, the primary goal seems to be to protect the bond construction program not to oversee it." The CBOC is required by the State to insure that all bond funds a spent in accordance with the provisions of Prop 39. That is to say, all funds must be spent on construction progects only. That is the only required function of the CBOC. Any other function of the CBOC is granted by the WCCUSD Board. The "oversee(ing)", and all decisions concerning the program rest entirely with the elected school board.
Giorgio C. September 22, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Charley, The district's handing of the Grand Jury response to the report on bond oversight is a perfect example of why oversight is needed. Although you might be in the minority, you are the few who understand your oversight responsibilities.
Giorgio C. September 22, 2012 at 04:10 PM
I should not have to attend a meeting in order to have access to documents-information I seek. This is the modern era. We have the internet. We use email. We post documents on-line. If asbestos-removal is cited in the bond language verbiage, then I want to see the justification documents supporting this need. How extensive is the asbestos problem? I should not have to wait until after the November election to request and review this information. As a taxpayer, I am being asked to approve this request for monies. Again, I want to see the justification documents. Whether or not citizens have an interest in the CBOC meetings is irrelevant to my request, but I will attend the next meeting in order to have my request heard and documented. Although the current CBOC is tasked to oversee monies from the previous bond measure(s), they should be maintaining a list-record of all district facility needs that can be used to demonstrate the justification of the proposed bond measure. Here is the 2007 Facility Master Plan. http://wccusd-bond-oversight.com/pdfs/2007FacilitiesMasterPlan.pdf Perhaps something more recent might provide clear justification of the current proposed bond measure. This webpage mentions "updates", but there are none. http://wccusd-bond-oversight.com/FacMasterPlans.htm Once we know the needs, then we can have a meaningful discussion about fairness in terms of assessment rates and the shouldering of costs by the taxpayers in the WCCUSD.
Charles Cowens September 22, 2012 at 10:53 PM
Michael, I'm well aware of what the functions of a Citizens Bond Oversight Committee are. Here is the Ed. Code section (15278-15282): http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=15001-16000&file=15278-15282 When voters see oversight by such a committee as a reason to vote for a bond they are imagining it as a group of people like Giorgio, not as a flock of apologists.
Giorgio C. September 23, 2012 at 12:20 AM
Michael, I stand corrected by you to some degree. My logic is placing the cart before the horse, yes? Before there is a bond measure, there is the board proposing a bond measure based on recommendations from the district. With so many bond measures from even numbered year to even numbered year, I have seen the board-bond measure-CBOC as being a continuum. At some point, our parcel taxes and bond measures are beginning to take on the appearance of the default mechanism for funding our schools, not the exception. Regardless, the facility needs should be clearly documented by the district and made available for use by the elected board, as was seen with the 2007 Facility Report. It now appears that Mr. Cowens has been fulfilling some of the duties of the school board if they have not asked these same questions. The board should ensure this research has been performed. Did the consultants provide this same analysis that Mr. Cowens has provided? The data provided by Mr. Cowens should be redundant. Mr. Cowens has demonstrated the other layer of oversight that is needed, that being the role of all citizens who are responsible for overseeing those they elect to any office. That's my wordy interpretation, anyway.
JJH September 28, 2012 at 09:02 AM
Giorgio, your "wordy interpretation" speaks for many of us taxpayers who are fed up with the arrogance of the WCCUSD Administration and the School Board. I would like to see a state audit of all the current Voter Approved Bond Issues. I want the WCCUSD to show exactly where the money has been spent. I find it quite ironic that the districts with the highest percentage of students passing the California STAR tests, (Orinda, Lafayette, Walnut Creek, San Ramon, Moraga,), also have the lowest school bond tax rates.
Giorgio C. September 28, 2012 at 03:45 PM
JJH, What is missing is oversight of the district entity, not just of the individual schools. Somehow, school districts have escaped this. There should be someone with authority tasked with auditing all responsibilities-functions of the district. Instead, wee have audits with non-binding recommendations and it isn't clear to me if each board member even reads these audit documents. One board member in particular seems very ignorant of many of the machinations of district policy and relevant laws. The district entity itself should also be part of an accreditation program, not just the schools. Why aren't school "districts" accredited? I am not beating up on our district, but am offering suggestions for improvement. The entire system is grossly flawed in terms of delegation of responsibilities, oversight, and accountability. We should not be relying on Grand Jury's to assess the performance of school districts, but we do. An accreditation process is a powerful management tool. Currently, we have an elected board of amateurs who are given a great deal of responsibility. What other business is managed by folks who do not have to meet any qualifications other than residency? And they do play a role in management as they directly oversee the Superintendent, so they need to understand the duties of the Superintendent. I do not believe some of our board members understand the duties and responsibilities of our superintendent.
Valerie Snider September 28, 2012 at 04:32 PM
The current board boasts about being free from the oversight of the state trustee. Actually, we were better off with the trustee, because, as JJH says, "...we have an elected board of amateurs..." As Charley Cowens points out, the Board has abandoned its resolution to close schools (which would have saved the district money) and instead plans to rebuild schools previously slated for closure. Under the supervision of the state trustee this would not have happened. It is fiscally irresponsible given declining enrollment, lack of money to operate schools, and the dismal STAR test scores in the district.
Susan D.Keeffe September 28, 2012 at 04:46 PM
Chris, I agree. And I also note the comment regarding the cost of repayment. More information would be most welcome.
Giorgio C. September 29, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Regarding "dismal STAR test scores", if these include those who are part of our truancy problem, then the school should not be blamed for such. That is a social or community problem. Our schools are responsible for providing a place to learn and qualified teachers. The rest is up to us.
Giorgio C. September 30, 2012 at 05:02 PM
I am currently voting NO on the bond measure. I will reconsider if I can see documentation justifying the needs for each item listed in the measure language. It is my expectation that each board member and board candidate has reviewed such documentation prior to voting or commenting on this measure as opposed to rubber stamping it.
Giorgio C. October 14, 2012 at 04:25 PM
Scathing CC Times editorial criticizing WCCUSD bond program http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_21761698/contra-costa-times-editorial-yes-measure-g-no
Giorgio C. December 17, 2012 at 03:00 PM
Tonight WCCUSD special meeting to address funding priorities Notice on El Cerrito Patch http://elcerrito.patch.com/articles/school-board-public-hearing-workshop-on-funding-priorities
Giorgio C. December 17, 2012 at 06:48 PM
Correction. Meeting is Wednesday, not tonight.

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