Theresa Harrington / EdSource
The West Contra Costa Unified school board listens to a budget presentation by Superintendent Matthew Duffy, right, and Tony Wold, associate superintendent of business services, on Nov. 20, 2019.
This story was updated at 3:05 p.m. Nov. 22 to add a link to the ballot measure, which includes potential projects to be funded through the bond measure.

A San Francisco Bay Area district has decided to go to the voters in March asking them to approve a $575 million construction bond measure so it can build and upgrade school facilities.

If voters approve the measure, West Contra Costa Unified — which includes Richmond and surrounding communities — could only use the money for construction, renovation, technology or other facilities upgrades.

The new funds would not help offset the district’s $48 million operating deficit, which caused the school board last week to consider firing its superintendent. In the end the board agreed to work with Superintendent Matthew Duffy to find ways to close its budget gap.

West Contra Costa is considering spending cuts and the use of budget reserves to close its budget gap, which surfaced since last spring, in part to fund a 17 percent cumulative raise for the district’s teachers from July 2017 to July 2020 in order to attract and retain high quality educators. Officials said the district may return to the voters next November to ask for a new parcel tax to restore any programs, services and staffing that it cuts to balance its 2020-21 budget.

The district bond measure is different from the statewide $15 billion construction bond measure that will also appear on the March ballot, because the West Contra Costa measure only applies to residents in the district and would require them to pay additional property taxes to fund it. The statewide measure, on the other hand, would be funded as part of the state budget and could provide matching funds to districts such as West Contra Costa, if they have their own local funding. The state measure requires a district match in most cases, but the percentage varies based on the type of project and the demographic makeup of students. The state bond may cover up to the entire project cost for some districts that qualify for financial hardship. The state measure requires a majority vote to pass, while district measures require 55 percent voter approval.

The school board on Wednesday voted 4-1 to place the measure on the March 3, 2020 ballot to be used to rebuild and renovate 21 schools considered priorities based on the district’s facilities master plan, while also providing air conditioning and technology districtwide.

Board president Tom Panas voted against the bond. He said he opposed asking voters to approve another district tax, adding that he preferred to wait until November because there isn’t much time to drum up support for the March measure with holidays coming up. He said he was also concerned that the project list was too broad and vague.

The bond measure would require property owners to pay $60 per $100,000 in assessed value through 2052-53. That would increase the property tax rate from nearly $238 to almost $300 per $100,000 of assessed valuation. The rate would drop every year as other measures are paid off.

Board member Consuelo Lara said she was “excited” about the planned projects, including air conditioning, career technical education, arts facilities and health centers.

“Everybody’s going to benefit,” she said. “These are things I’m passionate about.”

Board member Mister Phillips said some of his neighbors have told him they are experiencing financial hardships and have to choose between feeding their families and heating their homes.

“I want us to realize when we talk about putting a bond or a parcel tax on the ballot, this money we’re trying to get is not free money,” he said. “It’s coming from our neighbors and some of those folks are struggling.”

Tony Wold, associate superintendent of business services, said the district recognizes that even without the new tax“our community is feeling the burden of taxes.” But he said the district has identified more than $1 billion in facilities needs “and that is only going to go up” if the district waits.

The school board has not yet identified which specific projects among all of those listed in the ballot measure would be funded with the money. The bond measure states that the final costs have not yet been determined and that based on these costs, some projects “may be delayed or may not be completed.”

The district plans to pay for placing the bond measure on the ballot, estimated at $256,700 to $385,000, from revenue in its operating budget set aside for legal fees, which won’t be needed this year, Wold said.

Editor’s Note: As a special project, EdSource is tracking developments this year in the Oakland Unified and West Contra Costa Unified School Districts as a way to illustrate some of the most urgent challenges facing many urban districts in California. West Contra Costa Unified includes Richmond, El Cerrito and several other East Bay communities.

We need your help ...

Unlike many news outlets, EdSource does not secure its content behind a paywall. We believe that informing the largest possible audience about what is working in education — and what isn't — is far more important.

Once a year, however, we ask our readers to contribute as generously as they can so that we can do justice to reporting on a topic as vast and complex as California's education system — from early education to postsecondary success.

Thanks to support from several philanthropic foundations, EdSource is participating in NewsMatch. As a result, your tax-deductible gift to EdSource will be worth three times as much to us — and allow us to do more hard hitting, high-impact reporting that makes a difference. Don’t wait. Please make a contribution now.

Share Article

Comments (4)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * *

Comments Policy

We welcome your comments. All comments are moderated for civility, relevance and other considerations. Click here for EdSource's Comments Policy.

  1. John Irminger 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    The report refers to only one type of WCCUSD expenditure - teacher salary ('teacher' includes counselors, librarians, nurses, etc - all non-admin certificated employees) as causing the budget problem. But teacher salary in WCCUSD is not the cause - because teacher salary has been flat, as a percentage of expenditures. In 2010-2011, 36.8% of expenditures was on teacher salary. In the projected (July) budget for 2019-2020, the teacher salary is 36.6%. In 2018-2019, the percentage … Read More

    The report refers to only one type of WCCUSD expenditure – teacher salary (‘teacher’ includes counselors, librarians, nurses, etc – all non-admin certificated employees) as causing the budget problem. But teacher salary in WCCUSD is not the cause – because teacher salary has been flat, as a percentage of expenditures.

    In 2010-2011, 36.8% of expenditures was on teacher salary. In the projected (July) budget for 2019-2020, the teacher salary is 36.6%. In 2018-2019, the percentage was 35.0%, and in 2017-2018, the year the raise was negotiated, 33.5% went to teachers. CTA recommends that 38% to 43% of a district’s budget go to teacher salary – and in similar size, but high performing districts like San Ramon Valley USD, that is what we find. SRVUSD spends $143 mil out of its $356 mil total expenditures – or about 41%. WCCUSD spends $132 mil out of $360 mil total expenditures – or about 35.6%. Given that there are still unfilled teaching positions in WCCUSD, market theory would hold that salary isn’t high enough in WCCUSD – as would the stronger academic performance of districts that pay relatively well.

  2. Jeff Camp 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Local property tax-funded school bonds (like the one discussed here) are the biggest contributor to school construction and upkeep. State school bonds (like Prop 13 on the upcoming March ballot) provide crucial matching funds. For an up-to-date explainer about how all this works visit https://ed100.org/blog/school-facilities-in-california-who-pays (available in Spanish, too).

  3. M 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    That is ridiculous! Increased in taxpayer property tax? Does the board recognize some folks live pay check to pay check? I am why the district push to have students take for PSAT/AP test, and guess what kids don’t care! Guess what the district pays for it. How much does that cost? The district also needs to look at some teachers who are burned out, or don’t want to teach anymore … these cost district so much money.

  4. Raul 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    They held this vote at midnight! So no one was there to counter! So many things wrong here: 1. Dr. Wold made many inaccurate statements. Charter schools do not have access to bonds. Given the animosity against parent school choice, I have a feeling they will mobilize against this measure. 2. There is no money in the budget for legal. One of the members even said that nigh that there was only 9k left in that line … Read More

    They held this vote at midnight! So no one was there to counter! So many things wrong here:

    1. Dr. Wold made many inaccurate statements. Charter schools do not have access to bonds. Given the animosity against parent school choice, I have a feeling they will mobilize against this measure.

    2. There is no money in the budget for legal. One of the members even said that nigh that there was only 9k left in that line item.

    3. They are taking the 15 million of dollars to pay this years debt from the stashed monies for retirees. This is where the union cannibalizes itself because of there is no bailout, the district will be short another 15 million plus interest!

    The irony here is that the State Superintendent of Schools was a former WCCUSD board member not too long ago. Now, he will have to oversee this broken school district when it fails in 2020 and then the skeletons will surely come out!

    Meanwhile, poor kids of color in Richmond and San Pablo have the Fearless Five Bunch of board members who look more and more angry, unhealthy and bitter from one meeting to the next. Ay Dios! Buckle up!