WCCUSD School Board Endorsements

It’s al­ready elec­tion day, so what bet­ter time to ex­plain my own en­dorse­ments in the race for WCCUSD school board. Maybe not. Consider this more of a con­fes­sion than an en­dorse­ment at this point.

There are four can­di­dates for two slots:

Randy Enos
Todd Groves
Antonio Medrano
Robert Studdiford

I’ve been pretty clear about my sup­port for Todd for a while. He’s some­one who is us­ing his re­tire­ment to not just vol­un­teer but to ac­tu­ally lead in bring­ing key con­crete pro­grams into schools. So far, it’s been the Writer Connection and a new mid­dle school math ini­tia­tive. I’ve al­ways been im­pressed with his in­tel­li­gence and in­ter­est in aca­d­e­mic is­sues. He also has a great way of just ig­nor­ing di­vi­sive­ness around him and just get­ting on with the busi­ness of serv­ing stu­dent needs (a skill I could be bet­ter at). It would be good to have some­one with his mind on the board. (He is 5 for 6 in main in­sti­tu­tional en­dorse­ments.)

Enos and Medrano are kind of a toss-up for me for the other slot. Medrano seems more open to re­form, but he’s too wed­ded to the con­struc­tion pro­gram and end­less bond mea­sures. Enos is an ex-teacher and ex-prin­ci­pal who can bring that kind of per­spec­tive. He’s also a mod­er­ate per­son, so even in cases like char­ter schools, where he doesn’t re­ally sup­port them, he can be re­lied on to be fair. So, if I have to choose, I choose Enos.

Studdiford is the can­di­date I’ve known the longest, but also the one I rate the low­est. He is re­ally un­suited to be in this po­si­tion. He’s be­ing cooler in the run-up to the elec­tion, but he has gen­er­ally been im­ma­ture, bel­liger­ent, and very them-vs.-us. I al­ways get the feel­ing that he’s not quite all there. He’s also not that knowl­edge­able out­side of school con­struc­tion.

His ma­jor ac­tiv­i­ties have been de­fend­ing the con­struc­tion pro­gram and sup­port­ing his hero, Charles Ramsey. This has turned into large do­na­tions from the in­ter­ests he was sup­posed to be over­see­ing on the bond over­sight com­mit­tee (in­cluded the no­to­ri­ous Seville Group in­dicted for their ac­tiv­i­ties in the Sweetwater dis­trict) and a lot of politi­cian en­dorse­ments. This gives him a good chance. The only up­side to his elec­tion would be a great in­crease in the en­ter­tain­ment value of board meet­ings.

Final Pre-election Campaign Finance Disclosures

As I dis­cussed in my post­ing, Follow the Money for the WCCUSD Candidates, the County Elections Office has been pretty good about post­ing scans of the cam­paign fi­nance fil­ings. Unfortunately, their scan­ning sys­tem broke down last week and they can’t seem to fix it in time for the elec­tions. Linda Ruiz-Lozito went down and got copies of the WCCUSD can­di­date files to scan at home. I’m post­ing them for her:

Randall Enos

Todd Groves

Antonio Medrano

Robert Studdiford

Vote No on Measure E: One Too Many WCCUSD Bond Measures

I’ve never voted against an ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing mea­sure be­fore even when I had to put a clothes­pin on my nose as I did for the the last bond mea­sure just 2 years ago. I’m tired of be­ing a sucker, so this time I’m ac­tu­ally vot­ing no on mea­sure E, the newest bond mea­sure. (For an overview of the over­all bond pro­gram, check out this post­ing.)

There Has to Be a Good Reason for It

Why? I think there should ac­tu­ally be a rea­son to pass what is ul­ti­mately an­other tax. The only rea­son for this bond mea­sure is the ex­tra like­li­hood that a 55% bond will pass in a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion with Obama on the bal­lot. That’s it. No need, just an elec­toral op­por­tu­nity.

No Public Discussion of Need for Bond

I’m on the bond over­sight com­mit­tee, and I’ve at­tended many school board meet­ings. I’ve never been aware of any dis­cus­sion about some com­pelling need for a new bond. This came out of the blue…at least for the pub­lic. After all, we just passed bond #5 for $380 mil­lion in 2010.

Need for Operational Funds

What has been end­lessly dis­cussed is the need for more fund­ing of school op­er­a­tions, like re­duc­ing class sizes. Although we have a par­cel tax for this, I don’t think it’s enough.

Classroom Funding versus Construction Funding

That’s why in July peo­ple at a school board pub­lic hear­ing at Harding pleaded for not go­ing for an­other bond mea­sure till an en­hanced par­cel tax could be passed this year or the next. This plea seemed to work as the school board voted for a par­cel-tax-only sur­vey, but then Charles Ramsey bought his own hur­ried sur­vey (from the same com­pany) and later dra­gooned the board into sup­port­ing his plan for a new bond and just an ex­ten­sion of the par­cel tax be­yond 2014. (This bond is al­most a com­plete copy of the pre­vi­ous bond bal­lot lan­guage. After all, it worked the last time!) Anyway, an ad­di­tional rea­son to vote against the bond mea­sure is that it sig­nif­i­cantly de­creases the chances of pass­ing a par­cel tax in­crease later if needed.

Time to Stop and Look Comprehensively at the WCCUSD Construction Program

Before pass­ing an­other bond mea­sure, peo­ple in the dis­trict need to step back and take a close look at our school con­struc­tion plan out­side of the elec­toral con­text con­sid­er­ing these ques­tions:

  1. Why isn’t there a real mas­ter plan? There is a nom­i­nal plan pub­lished in 2007, but noth­ing nom­i­nal or oth­er­wise since. How can we spend all these mil­lions with­out such a plan.
  2. Why are the project lists so dis­or­ga­nized and hard to fol­low? Part of the le­git­i­macy of these bonds is the idea that vot­ers know what they’re vot­ing for and over­sight com­mit­tees and au­di­tors have some­thing con­crete to use to eval­u­ate bond ex­pen­di­tures. This hasn’t been the case for the last bond and the pro­posed new bond.
  3. Why do we pay so much more in school bond taxes than other com­mu­ni­ties in­clud­ing dis­tricts like Berkeley and Piedmont? Months ago, I did an analy­sis of the tax rates for Contra Costa and Northern Alameda. Although this was based on the tax rates avail­able then, I don’t think the rel­a­tive po­si­tions have changed that much.
  4. Schools that were to be closed have re­ceived a re­prieve. Part of the mar­ket­ing of the bond has been to redo these schools. The pub­lic needs a chance to look at all the ex­tra net costs, both op­er­a­tional and con­struc­tion, for keep­ing these schools open and then judge whether it’s worth it, given the com­plete cost pic­ture from both sides.
  5. This is tied to the mas­ter plan, but it can be a sep­a­rate ques­tion. When is this go­ing to end? I don’t mean for­ever, but at least a respite of 10 or more years.

Overview of WCCUSD Bonds

In this post, I’d like to share some doc­u­ments that de­scribe our enor­mous con­struc­tion bond pro­gram in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. Three of the doc­u­ments were sub­mit­ted to the Contra Costa Times by WCCUSD and used in an ed­i­to­r­ial that came out against a new bond (and rightly so). Another one is a “Friday Memo” to the WCCUSD school board that in­cludes in­for­ma­tion about the bond pro­gram.

How the Bonds Work

First let me sketch out how every­thing works in gen­eral. All of the bonds ex­cept the first are Prop. 39 bonds, so to sim­plify things I’ll as­sume the Prop. 39 rules ap­ply to all.

The “AV”: Total Assessed Valuation

The West Contra Costa Unified School District is an area within Contra Costa County. In this area of the dis­trict are var­i­ous pri­vate prop­erty lots. Each lot has an as­sessed value as­signed by the County Tax Assessor. The most well-known limit on how the Assessor can set these val­u­a­tions is Prop. 13. There are also ex­emp­tions that slightly re­duce the val­u­a­tion to a net as­sessed value. (Remember, the as­sessed value is just what you pay taxes on, not the mar­ket value of the house.) All these net as­sessed val­ues within WCCUSD roll into the to­tal “AV” for WCCUSD.

Bond Authorizations

A vote of 55% or more on a bond mea­sure al­lows the school dis­trict to is­sue bonds up to a cer­tain set amount based on a rea­son­able pro­jec­tion that the tax rate will not ex­ceed a cer­tain stated amount per $100,000 ($100K) of as­sessed val­u­a­tion and that bond pro­ceeds will be used for pur­poses de­fined in a project list. These bond au­tho­riza­tions are usu­ally iden­ti­fied by the bal­lot let­ter from the elec­tion and some­times by the elec­tion it was passed in. (The pro­jected tax rate can­not ex­ceed $60/$100K AV for Prop. 39 bonds.)

Bond Issuance

Based on a bond au­tho­riza­tion, the school dis­trict is­sues one or more se­ries of bonds on terms set in the is­suance. These terms can be the stan­dard one of pay-off-some-prin­ci­pal-with-the-in­ter­est like in most home mort­gages. Or it can be a cap­i­tal ap­pre­ci­a­tion bond (CAB) where the pay­off of prin­ci­pal (or even in­ter­est) doesn’t hap­pen till later like a bal­loon mort­gage. The pay-off pe­riod can’t ex­ceed 40 years; oth­er­wise, there aren’t any other di­rect le­gal con­trols on how a school dis­trict chooses to struc­ture the debt.

The Debt Ceiling That Isn’t Much of a Ceiling

There is some con­straint on how much a dis­trict can go into debt with these bonds. For a uni­fied school dis­trict like ours the to­tal amount of bonds of this type is­sued by the school dis­trict can­not ex­ceed 2.5% of the “AV” (as­sessed val­u­a­tion). However, this debt ceil­ing can be waived by the State Board of Education. The State Board has al­ways granted a waiver to WCCUSD, so this tax­payer pro­tec­tion is es­sen­tially mean­ing­less.

Taxing People to Pay the Bond Debt

Now comes the fun part, tax­ing peo­ple to pay the debt from the bonds. Unlike State bonds that are paid back through State rev­enues, lo­cal bonds are paid off by in­di­vid­ual tax­pay­ers.

Once the dis­trict is­sues a bond se­ries, the pay­ment for the bond is out of it’s hands and the vot­ers’ hands. Each year, the trustee for each bond is­suance cal­cu­lates the re­quired debt ser­vice based on the terms of the bond is­suance. The debt ser­vice for all of these bonds is rolled up to­gether and then com­pared to the AV for that year in the dis­trict by the County. The County then sim­ply cal­cu­lates the prop­erty tax rate needed to ser­vice the debt and puts it in the tax bills. Afterward, the County sends the col­lected money di­rectly to the bond trustees.

No Limit to the Tax Rate

There is no con­straint on what this tax rate num­ber can be. Taxpayers are ab­solutely li­able for di­rectly ser­vic­ing the debt at what­ever tax rate is re­quired ir­re­spec­tive of any pre­vi­ous pro­jec­tions by the dis­trict.

The Documents

Friday Memo Discussing the Use of CABs

The Friday Memo is a weekly re­port by the Superintendent to the WCCUSD School Board. (The dis­trict doesn’t post these on the web­site, so they have to be ob­tained through a pub­lic records request…each time.) This Friday Memo points out that WCCUSD has used CABs for spe­cific bond is­suances, but doesn’t use them a lot. Instead, WCCUSD re­lies on con­tin­u­ously is­su­ing new bond au­tho­riza­tions. By keep­ing at or be­low the pro­jected tax rate for each sep­a­rate bond au­tho­riza­tion, the dis­trict can brag about it even though the to­tal school bond tax rate in­creases as each new bond au­tho­riza­tion passes. At the end of the memo, there is an in­ter­est­ing ta­ble de­scrib­ing each bond se­ries un­der each bond au­tho­riza­tion.

Show the doc­u­ment

WCCUSD History of Bond Authorizations

This is a more gen­eral sum­mary by bond au­tho­riza­tion of the in­for­ma­tion pre­sented in the ta­ble at the end of the pre­vi­ous doc­u­ment (the Friday Memo).

Show the doc­u­ment

WCCUSD History of Assessed Valuations and Bond Tax Rates

These two pages show the last 20 years of AV growth in the dis­trict and the bond tax rates since it all started in 98/​99 with Measure E 1998. While the ac­tual tax rate info is cor­rect, the use of the tar­get tax rate in the sec­ond ta­ble is a bit disin­gen­u­ous. Every bond is listed with its max­i­mum tax rate and these are summed to make one ag­gre­gate max­i­mum tax rate. This is mis­lead­ing, be­cause each bond is at its own point in life:

  1. Measure E 2012 hasn’t even passed yet. We’re not “sav­ing” $48/$100K of AV. This is ridicu­lous.
  2. Measure D 2010 has a tem­po­rary dip this one year. Remember, only $100 mil­lion of the the $380 mil­lion in bond debt au­tho­rized has been is­sued yet.
  3. Measure E 1998 has never come close to the max­i­mum tax rate. Perhaps as the first bond and as a bond in the tougher pre-Prop. 39 era, it was thought wise to un­der­es­ti­mate the tax rate as a way to pass more bonds later based on the “good stew­ard­ship” shown by the dis­trict in the first bond.
Show the doc­u­ment

WCCUSD Debt Service and Tax Rate Projections

These pro­jec­tions in­clude sce­nar­ios for dif­fer­ent rates of AV growth. The pro­jec­tions also in­clude the new bond mea­sure as a break­out col­umn.

Show the doc­u­ment