Mystery Education Theater 3000

Month: August 2012

School Bond Tax Rates by School District in Contra Costa County

To commemorate the placement of another WCCUSD bond (#6) on the November ballot by our school board, I took a look at my own property tax bill to see what I was already paying even before the extra estimated $48/$100K would get tacked on.

It seemed like a lot, but what about other districts in the county? Is $232/$100K assessed value (proposed to be bumped to $280) a lot? Here are my results for the last billing cycle displayed as a table, a Tableau-generated chart, and a crude heat map.

Unified District or Elem. District
within High School District
Tax Rate
West Contra Costa$232.20
San Ramon$66.40
Mt. Diablo$61.20
Walnut Creek/Acalanes$57.30
John Swett$41.80

(The heat map’s redness is proportional to the percentage of the highest tax rate.)

How I Got This

The County Auditor publishes a list of ad valorem (per assessed value) tax rates in October. I got a link to the last report from a reporter. On page 3 is a list of the bonds and their rates. I picked them out by district (either unified K-12 or elementary within a high school district) and added them up.

You can see all of this in an online spreadsheet. The second “Tax Rates” tab lists the individual bonds; the first “By Districts” tab combines the bond tax rates and charts them.


People in the West Contra Costa Unified School District pay an incredibly disproportionate tax rate for school bonds even before tacking on an extra 20% increase in the tax rate through this proposed new bond. Remember, WCCUSD is a declining enrollment district. The closest competitors in tax rate are districts that have had substantial growth recently. While I’m sure there are rationalizations for us having a high school bond tax rate (before the new bond is even added in), the rationalizations would have to explain not just why WCCUSD is comparable to expanding districts, but why we leap over all other school districts in the county to such an exaggeratedly high tax rate.

What’s on Your Property Tax Bill?

Another “Ramsey Tax” (WCCUSD bond #6) has now been approved for the ballot by our school board. What better time than now to check out what we’re paying extra to live in the West Contra Costa Unified School District.

Keep in mind all property tax bills are public info and web-accessible (in California). I looked up mine from the Contra Costa County Tax Collector’s site.

The bill itself is an intimidating jumble. On the left-hand side are parcel taxes (not directly based on the assessed value of the parcel), and on the right-hand side are ad valorem taxes (based on the assessed value of the parcel). School bonds are ad valorem taxes.

I pulled out the school taxes and put them in an online spreadsheet. I also added additional contextual info and used “typical” parcel values from a Contra Costa Times editorial.

The Bonds

What’s truly astonishing is just how huge the bill is now for 5 bonds, especially compared to everything else on the extra ad valorem side. For BART, the water district, the parks district, and community college, the combined rate is $32.30/$100K; for WCCUSD, the rate is $232.20/$100K. That’s a more than 7:1 ratio.


Another interesting aspect of the tax bill is the MRAD (Maintenance and Recreation Assessment District) assessment. This deserves its own article, but here’s the short story. It’s a $72/parcel tax. It is mostly used to pay for “Maintenance and Operations” (80%). This is probably all salaries that would have to be funded by general operating funds otherwise, so it’s a lot like the other parcel tax. A small part of the expenditures is used for funding small construction-related projects at schools, so it’s also used a little like bond funds.

What Next?

My next step is to poke around tax bills for other school districts to see how much other school districts charge on the bills and check the proportion of taxes for constuction vs. operations.

View the online spreadsheet.

What a Difference a Month Makes

On July 2d, the WCCUSD School Board met in a special meeting. People told them loud and clear “Enhanced parcel tax, no bond.” The Board authorized a parcel-tax-only survey unanimously. Charles Ramsey said such a (no-bond) campaign would have to be conducted without him. For a week or so, it was West Contra Costa Spring as people quickly started organizing a grassroots campaign under the name Support West County Students, without Charles and his (friends’) money, to support a parcel tax increase campaign.

Now, it’s August 1st and the same board is ready to place another $300M+ bond (#6) on the Nov. ballot, only two years after passing the previous $300M+ bond (#5), and to place an extension only for the current parcel tax that doesn’t actually expire till 2014. Expect another heavily funded astroturf campaign.

Anyway, to relive those halcyon days of early July, I’ve uploaded sound files from the July 2d meeting. I digitized the parts of the audio cassettes for the “Funding” item in the meeting. They can be played or downloaded from: (beginning from the 1st tape) (ending from the 2d tape)

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