Mystery Education Theater 3000

The Endless WCCUSD Bond Debt Cycle

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:

  1. Survey/push-poll people with leading questions late in an odd-numbered year.
  2. Find a tax rate that will give a comfortable margin over 55%.
  3. Calculate a total “bondage” amount based completely on that tax rate.
  4. Attach a permissive scrambled “project list” for everything and anything.
  5. 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.)
  6. Put it on a June or November even-year ballot. (These are the only allowed dates for WCCUSD Prop. 39 elections.)
  7. Use “scope-based” “budgeting” to burn through the money while holding the tax rate for that specific bond withing the projected limit.
  8. 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.

Categories: WCCUSD

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  1. Oh Brave Soul (Contra Costa Taxpayer’s Association?), here’s your lawsuit:

    [1] Violation of CA Constitution XIIIA(1)(b)(3)(B), providing that 55% vote is available only if the bond measure includes:

    “A list of the specific school facilities projects to be funded
    and certification that the school district board, community college
    board, or county office of education has evaluated safety, class size
    reduction, and information technology needs in developing that list.”

    There’s no specific list, and the district can’t show that it evaluated ANY factors in designing the bond measure.

    [2] False statements in language of bond measure:

    “The Board conducted an evaluation at all school sites and received public input in developing the scope of school projects to be funded. This input concluded that if these needs were not addressed now, the problem would only get worse and more expensive to address in
    the future.”

    I’d love to hear how the district would explain having done these things prior to adopting the bond resolution.

    • I mean, this one (2014 bond measure) is starting to get laughable, right? In 2010 the story was “we need more so that everyone can have a new school, even schools that we previously said wouldn’t need work.” In 2012, the story was “we need more so that we can rebuild schools that the district doesn’t even want to have anymore, those that are still open only because Richmond pays to keep them open.” In 2014, what’s the story? From the press coverage and the board minutes, they’ve given up even have a pretense of a justification or need. Now it’s just “give us more money because we’d like to have more money to spend.” I know, that’s always been the truth, but now they’re not even bothering to have a cover story!!

      • By the way, last year the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District confirmed that Proposition 39 requires that SPECIFIC projects to be funded are listed in the bond measure, not general categories or buckets of projects. The Court actually rejected as illegal an expenditure made by the San Diego district on a project (sports field lighting) that was not specifically identified in their 55% bond measure.
        It’s clear that any WCCUSD taxpayer could sue the district and have virtually any of their expenditures from prior 55% bonds rejected as illegal. I don’t know if a court would step in in advance of a vote to declare an entire bond measure to be illegal under Prop 39, by virtue of not containing ANY specific projects, but it’s certainly a case worth bringing, and one that will bring attention to shady dealings in WCCUSD. Dealings that I am now concluding are actually flat out and undeniably illegal.

        • If I keep this up, Charlie is either going to appoint me as guest blogger, or ban me from posting. Well, until that happens, more fodder for the lawsuit to put an end to this nonsense:

          Contrary to the requirements of Proposition 39, the district’s approved ballot language does not even include a project list at all! Rather, it says “The Project List includes the following types of projects”. Okay, thanks for telling us the types of projects that are on the project list. Now where is the actual project list? There is none, thus the bond measure does not conform to Proposition 39, thus it cannot be approved on a 55% vote.

          What else? “Listed … projects will be completed as needed” and may include “construction of new classrooms, if necessary.” This ambiguity is contrary to the Proposition 39 requirement for a SPECIFIC list of projects, and shows that the district is lying when it certifies that it has “evaluated the district’s urgent and critical school needs” and “conducted an evaluation at all school sites.”

          Is there more? Yes there is. As Charlie points out, part of the problem is the district’s “scope based budgeting.” This is impermissible under Proposition 39, which requires a Project List and requires the district to certify that the “school district board…has evaluated safety, class size reduction, and information technology needs in developing that list. The district does not make this certification. Instead, they certify to having evaluated needs in “developing the scope of projects to be funded.” Sorry, but this is not what Prop 39 requires, and every court in the land will forcefully assert that the meaning of words matter. “Scope” does not mean the same thing as “Project List,” and will not satisfy the plain requirements of Prop 39.

          If approved by voters, a citizen with standing (any local taxpayer or association representing taxpayers) will be able to appeal to the courts to block sale of bonds, expenditure of bond funds, and will have a solid justification to appeal to the state Secretary of Education to reject the district’s eventual petition to exceed debt thresholds. I hope it doesn’t come to this. Better that the district pull this bond measure from the June ballot, or that a taxpayer lawsuit force the district to remove it from the ballot. If we get into suits that challenge the validity of actual expenditures from approved bonds, then every single one of the previously approved 55% bonds is in jeopardy, and I don’t want that. I just want the insanity to stop.

          • Charley Cowens

            March 17, 2014 — 11:46 am

            If at some point you would like to collect your comments into a guest blog post, that would be fine with me.

    • It’s okay, by the way, for WCCUSD to ask voters to approve bonds for a broad and general program of construction, without analyzing needs in detail or specifying what specific projects are going to be built, or even KNOWING what projects it is going to do. It’s okay for the district to push the bond measures that it is pushing. It just can’t do it under the 55% vote level of Proposition 39, because that Prop requires an analysis of needs and a specific list of projects. The way the district has chosen to do its construction program means that its bonds must be approved at the 67% vote level.

  2. Is there ever going to be any organized push-back to this? It seems there’s only a handful of brave souls who are willing to publicly call BS on this, and they have no public platform. Where are the PTAs; don’t they feel tricked after being told to play ball in 2012 and that a parcel tax boost would be the district’s next effort? Is anyone willing to sue the school board for the false statements made in the bond approval resolution that they just passed (“we analyzed specific needs and discussed them with community”)? They probably wouldn’t win in court, but it would at least bring some attention to this corrupt conspiracy so that a few more voters know that they’re being tricked.

  3. So true, Charley…why don’t more taxpayers get it?

    Also, one has to wonder about the relationship certain board members have with the companies that are awarded contracts.

    • Charley Cowens

      March 3, 2014 — 12:02 am

      I’m not sure why. Part of it may be that it’s not perceived to be a tax. Also, property owners don’t always see their own tax bill. It’s something to ponder more.

      You also have to give credit to Charles Ramsey as a political life-form. He has developed a well-oiled machine for winning these elections from a superintendent in his pocket to a shocked-and-awed school board to a full-court press attack of one-sided presentations for every political body that can endorse something to reliable points of influence like Tom “Did I Forget to Mention My Firm Gets Money from the Bond Program” Butt.

    • Charley Cowens

      March 3, 2014 — 12:17 am

      As far as bond program contractors “investing” in school board candidates more likely to support more bonds and thus more profit opportunities for bond program contractors, this 2011 article describes it pretty well:

  4. If I understand this process correctly, has Prop. 39 lead to this direct increase in bonds being passed? In what time frame have the 6 bonds been passed? What can we expect in another 10 years? Another 6?

    This may impact my ability to retire here. If my property tax rates keep going up like they are.


    • Charley Cowens

      March 2, 2014 — 11:24 pm

      1998 Measure E 76%
      2000 Measure M 77.5%

      55% Prop 39 allowed
      2002 Measure D 71.8%
      2005 Measure J (odd-numbered year with special statewide election) 56.85%
      2010 Measure D 62.62%
      2012 Measure E 64.39%

      The driving force in this is Charles Ramsey. Pushing these measures consumes a lot of energy and political capital, so it might slow down if Ramsey actually leaves the school board. However, as mayor of Richmond or in some other role, he might still have influence to prod the school board to pass more bond measures…because that’s his main skill.

      • Charley Cowens

        March 3, 2014 — 12:08 am

        By the way, Janice, the source for most of the election info is from the great website. The 1998 bond is too old for, but luckily the Secretary of State hosts a list of County, City, School District & Ballot Measure Election Results going back to 1995.

    • Charley Cowens

      March 2, 2014 — 11:26 pm

      As you can see in the table, 3 of the last 4 Prop. 39 bonds had less than 2/3.

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