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Election 2012: School district Measure E

on October 25, 2012

LoVonya DeJean Middle School sneaks up on you as you drive down Macdonald Avenue. Clean and inviting, it draws the eye with its modern design, spaceship-esque main roof and sleek façade.

Before it underwent a huge remodel, DeJean Middle School fit right into the more typical, well-worn character of that part of Richmond, but even with more than a decade of age, the campus is in good condition.

DeJean was one of the first schools in the West Contra Costa Unified School District to be renovated as part of the district’s bond program.

Since 1998, voters have authorized the district to issue $1.27 billion in general obligation bonds by way of five separate bond measures. On November’s ballot the district is asking for number six with Measure E, a $360 million bond measure the district says will provide the funding to complete one last round of building so that all 56 schools in the district will be complete.

According to the ballot language, this bond will fund improvements, upgrades and rebuilds at Cameron Elementary, Collins Elementary, Crespi Middle School, Grant Elementary, Hercules Middle and High Schools, Kennedy High, Lake Elementary, Madera Elementary, North Campus Continuation School, Portola Playfields, Olinda Elementary, Richmond High, Riverside Elementary, Shannon Elementary and Verde Elementary.

The district estimates that taxpayers will be levied $48 per $100,000 of assessed property value.

Each bond has its own separate target tax rate and to date the district has met its target for every measure, since the first repayment of Measure E in 1998 according to an email response compiled by Martin Coyne who is Executive Director of  Bond Finance for the district.

Robert Studdiford, who has been on the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee for eight years, said the district is at a point where the end game is visible. In 10 years they have already worked on more than 50 schools.

“Personally I don’t think money is ever going to be cheaper,” he said. “The longer you push it out, the longer those students are stuck in buildings that aren’t good.”

The district, Studdiford said, poised the bond program at an advantage by being the only entity in the area selling bonds with a good credit rating in 2008 when the economy crashed.

The reason for so many bonds, he said, is so that the district can stay below the tax rate promised to the voters.

“By passing so many bonds, what we’ve been allowed to do is sell a little bit of each one so we don’t max out our tax rate,” he said. “Most are written for 40 years, but the district has them scheduled to be paid off closer to 25-30 years.”

Studdiford said he thinks one the biggest success stories of the program is that schools have become not only beacons in their communities, but they are built to such high standards that if disaster were to befall the area, the buildings could serve as emergency shelters.

“We live in earthquake country,” he said. “The poorest communities haven’t had their schools built. We’ve got to finish what we started and really this is the best time to do it.”

For some, the idea of asking for more money when the district is paying back pervious bond measures seems like too much.

Charles Cowes, who is also a member of the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee, said this will be the first time he does not vote for a measure that supports the schools.

“To me there’s an argument to be made that it’s impossible to properly manage,” he said.  “I think it makes sense that you need to digest what you just ate before you eat another meal.”

Studdiford said the impact these buildings have on the local communities goes beyond the cost.

“At Helms or Peres these are schools that are getting wraparound services,” he said. “They change the air of the neighborhood.”

Bond History at a glance

*The final repayment year cannot be determined until all of the bonds have been sold to investors.
Source: WCCUSD and Ed-Data


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