Mystery Education Theater 3000

Month: March 2014

Charles Cowens…District Volunteer [Cue Music]

I signed the ballot argument (the rebuttal part) against the latest WCCUSD bond measure (measure H) to increase our “Ramsey tax.” Although I would have written things a little differently, I thought it was important to take a stand against the bond measure.

I would have been more rebutting in the rebuttal. The safety canard (after 6 bonds they haven’t addressed concerns about asbestos yet?) should have been confronted. Also, the routine recital of taxpayer protections, our committee and the audits, should have been called out on the grounds that they aren’t very protective if we need a seventh bond.

Anyway, originally, I thought I would sign it as “Member, WCCUSD Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee [For ID Purposes Only]”. However, at a recent CBOC meeting, a member raised concerns about members using their affiliation with the CBOC, so I decided I couldn’t comfortably use it without some kind of discussion in the committee first.

In the meantime, I have to use some designation that explains how I am connected to the issue beyond just being a citizen. I decided on “District Volunteer” as the best fall-back. I volunteer as a public official in the West County Unified School District by being on this committee.

However, when I looked at this, I immediately thought it was a title for some 30’s-style radio drama like “Nick Danger…Third Eye” (Firesign Theater reference). In this case, it’s “Charles Cowens…District Volunteer.” So, in the interests of fun, I’ve decided I need a theme song as Charles Cowens…District Volunteer.” After careful deliberation, I’ve decided on the opening to Danger Man a.k.a. Secret Agent, Patrick McGoohan’s big show before The Prisoner.

WCCUSD School Bond Tax Rates Compared to Local School Districts (2014 Edition)


WCCUSD does excel at one thing!

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:

  1. Point your browser to the county document center:
  2. Open the folder for “Auditor-Controller”.
  3. Click on “Property Tax Publications”.
  4. Open the PDF file, “Detail of Tax Rates 2013-14”.
  5. Turn to page 3.

For Alameda County:

  1. Point your browser to the “Debt Service Tax Rates by District Type” page:
  2. 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.


One New Guy, One “Repeat Offender” for Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee


Bill Kelly is on the school board agenda to become a new CBOC member as a nominee of the Hercules City Council; Tim Warner is on the same agenda to be appointed to a second term.

The West Contra Costa Unified School District Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee has 19 seats. Currently, there are 16 appointed members with 1 member finishing his term and needing to be renewed. There are three empty seats, all “city” seats: Hercules, San Pablo, and Richmond. (Check the roster for the full run-down on membership.)

It’s the responsibility of the school district to fill the positions. Sadly, they don’t tell the CBOC leadership anything beforehand about appointment activity, because that would be…too normal. As committee secretary, I just check the agendas as they come out to the public. If there is a new person on the agenda, I do some internet tracking if necessary to get their contact info.

In the next WCCUSD School Board meeting agenda, I can see two CBOC appointments. Tim Warner is up for renewal. He has been a good contributor to our committee, so I’m glad that he’s continuing. Bill Kelly is also on the agenda as a new appointee having been nominated by the City of Hercules. He’s on the city council. Hopefully, the time demands of his council seat won’t interfere too much with attendance at CBOC meetings.

Note: Other groups and individuals nominate people for CBOC, but appointment to the CBOC is approved by the school board.

BlackBoard Exercises for March 22nd


A new community organization zeroed in on the academic achievement of African-American students in the West Contra Costa Unified School District has started up. What’s promising about this group is that the lead is being taken by someone else besides the usual players, school officials and professional advocacy groups. Of course, they’re involved, just not in the driver’s seat.

Of the two main contacts, I know Scottie Smith. She’s a totally solid person and has a lot of experience dealing with these issues. Hopefully, this group will achieve some success.

Their first forum will be on March 22nd. One thing that strikes me about this event is how much thought has been put into the process itself to allow everyone to participate. Look through the agenda in the “packet” below and see for yourself. (There’s also a single-page flyer you can download.)

Budget and Schedule Are the Hobgoblins of Small Minds

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.

Update (5/22/2014):

  • The meeting date was January 29th, 2014.
  • The full meeting recording by district staff is still on the podcast site at this page.

Copyright © 2019 Mystery Education Theater 3000

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑