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.