I spent 4 years on the WCCUSD Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee starting in January 2011. Then in January 2015, I decided to take a break from district involvement after almost 10 years in various school district committee and PTA positions in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. I also felt it was important to make room for new people to contribute. Now, I’m back.
Dennis Clay, project analyst in the district for 11 years, blew the whistle on alleged improprieties in the West Contra Costa Unified School District construction program in April of this year. I posted the contents of his submitted DVD and related files online here:
It’s almost July and still no clear definition of the forensic audit to be conducted from the school board, but at least it hasn’t been swept under the rug—not completely at least.
Two years ago, before the passage of the measure E (2012) bond, I posted twice comparing the school bond property tax rate in the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) to other districts in Contra Costa County and then to districts in northern Alameda County. Measure E (2012) passed.
Now, it’s two years later, and I get to show again how far out of wack we are as a district even before the new proposed measure H (2014) bond would pass. I’ll update things to be nicer, but, in the meantime, here’s a link to the Google spreadsheet with the rates:
Finding the Numbers
This time it was easier for me to find the tax rates. For Contra Costa County:
- Point your browser to the county document center: http://www.co.contra-costa.ca.us/documentcenterii.asp.
- Open the folder for “Auditor-Controller”.
- Click on “Property Tax Publications”.
- Open the PDF file, “Detail of Tax Rates 2013-14”.
- Turn to page 3.
For Alameda County:
- Point your browser to the “Debt Service Tax Rates by District Type” page: https://www.acgov.org/auditor/tax/debtservicesearch.htm
- Choose “K-12 School Districts”, make sure “2013-2014” is one of the compare years, and click the Search button.
What Can You Do?
One thing you can do is e-mail the school board and ask them if they are even aware of just how much WCCUSD pays for school bonds as taxes compared to other school districts–before this new one. This is a “mailto:” link for all of them.
It started at our WCCUSD CBOC meeting in January as this agenda item:
F.2 Budget Adjustments to Bond Program (tabled at December meeting)
The Board of Education has just approved $26 million in budget increases for bond projects.
Why did this happen and what sort of controls are in place to prevent this from reoccurring.
Submitted as a question by the CBOC Chair to Bill Fay on 1/20/14.
This had earlier elicited this brief written statement from Mr. Fay, WCCUSD Chief Operations Officer:
The WCCUSD Bond program is scope driven that delivers outstanding facilities that meets the express needs of each school community.
As such, all projects receive the most current design standards, technologies, educational specifications and equipment without regard to project timing. The program also moves forward without regard to contractor bidding climate and does not “value engineer” any scope. The remedy requires a change in
the number of projects that can be accomplished.
When the matter came up, Mr. Fay did not detail how this philosophy led specifically to the $29M shortfall, but instead expanded on the philosophy of scope-based budgeting at least as used in this district: spend without limit on projects until you run out of money -> bump remaining projects to the next bond -> get the next bond.
It’s all in this recording of Mr. Fay with some comments by Martin Coyne along with comments by committee members. It’s only 9 minutes; it’s worth a listen.
The Contra Costa County Taxpayers’ Association Director asked me recently why the West Contra Costa Unified School District needed a 7th school construction bond as if there was some carefully thought-out construction-based planning process behind it. I chuckled. I shared with him these steps for how the wheel keeps going ’round:
- Survey/push-poll people with leading questions late in an odd-numbered year.
- Find a tax rate that will give a comfortable margin over 55%.
- Calculate a total “bondage” amount based completely on that tax rate.
- Attach a permissive scrambled “project list” for everything and anything.
- Include front-end ballot text language to stay “within legal debt limits” along with buried back-end language that the district may have to seek a debt ceiling waiver. (For the last 2 bonds, the district has been over the statutory debt ceiling on waivers.)
- Put it on a June or November even-year ballot. (These are the only allowed dates for WCCUSD Prop. 39 elections.)
- Use “scope-based” “budgeting” to burn through the money while holding the tax rate for that specific bond withing the projected limit.
- Repeat two years later.
The district pats itself on the back for staying at target individual bond tax rates, while a total school bond tax rate that is already the highest in all of California continues to grow more and more.