After 20 years, on June 1st, West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) was able to pay off its $47 million state loan to the state of California four years ahead of schedule. WCCUSD, previously known as the Richmond Unified School District, filed for bankruptcy in 1991 and became the first district in the state to enter receivership. By paying off its debt, the district will be freed from oversight by a state trustee and the $1.4 million in annual debt payments to the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank (I-Bank). The I-Bank is the State’s only general purpose financing authority and helps fund public infrastructure and private development that promote economic development by issuing revenue bonds and providing credit enhancements.
“Paying off this debt allows us to put more money towards building better programs and facilities for our children in the District,”’ said Marin Trujillo, community engagement coordinator for WCCUSD.
On the morning of June 1, a ceremony was held in the font courtyard of the newly rebuilt Ford Elementary School in Richmond to honor the occasion. Before Board of Education leader Charles T. Ramsey handed over the final $8.1 million check to the state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, he acknowledged that the WCCUSD Board had done excellent work managing the resources to pay off the debt at an earlier date.
“During the same time in which WCCUSD has been repaying its loan, we have seen changes in district policies,” said Ramsey. “Engagement of teachers led to the district making progress toward closing the achievement gap and improving student attendance rates.”
The Board of Education helped develop a strategy to pay off the remaining debt by using the district’s $9 million debt service account, which was required by the trustee. The savings from the payoff of the state loan had already been budgeted, and just required an approval from Torlakson to proceed.
In the last few years, according to Trujillo, WCCUSD worked to create teams in schools trained in culturally responsive engagement strategies, as well as building a Mathematics Center with academic coaches on staff. Trujillo says the district also gained more support from parents this year with a Volunteer Outreach/Fingerprinting program that seeks to increase child safety through awareness and accountability.
“By paying off this debt, more funds can be used towards providing our children with the resources they need, such as computer labs and after school programs,” said Trujillo.