CONCORD -- Mt. Diablo trustees did not know what facilities improvement projects were needed when they voted March 9 to place a $348 million bond measure on the ballot, recently obtained correspondence between school administrators and an assistant superintendent shows.
Pete Pedersen, assistant superintendent for administrative services, did not ask school principals for their list of project priorities until March 16 -- seven days after trustees unanimously voted to put Measure C on the June 8 ballot, according to correspondence obtained through the California Public Records Act.
The district's list of improvements to be completed with the bond was not finalized until April, too late to be included in the voter information pamphlet. Voters approved the bond based on a general list of districtwide improvements that was not school specific.
The district posted its final list of projects online, but did not include detailed descriptions or costs for work to be done. This caused some confusion in schools regarding what the money would ultimately pay for.
Kris Hunt, of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association, said Monday that trustees should have determined the district's list of projects before asking voters to approve the bond. "The way you do this in the business world, and in any kind of logical sense, is to find out what do you want and what do you think it will cost?" she said. "And then you go out for the minimum amount needed, not 'What do we think the public will tolerate?' "
The district had originally been considering a parcel tax to bring much-needed revenue and help restore budget cuts. But after the voters failed to approve a parcel tax in May 2009, and subsequent polling showed the district was unlikely to get the two-thirds approval needed to pass such a tax in June, the district shifted gears in February and began planning for a bond measure, which needed 55 percent voter approval.
Pedersen started compiling a list of projects that could be completed with a bond by updating the district's Facility Master Plan, originally created to determine projects that would be constructed with a previous, $250 million bond in 2002, also called Measure C.
In his March 16 letter to site administrators, Pederson said the district was "engaged in an accelerated review and update" to be completed by April 9. He asked principals to review their priorities from the previous plan and to make changes by March 30.
He also allowed principals to write in additional items not previously listed, but stressed that he would assume they had no changes or additional requests if he did not hear back from them by his deadline.
Although Pedersen said he received 32 responses, only 30 were provided to the Times. The response from Sequioa Middle School, which former Principal Hellena Postrk said had been misinterpreted, was not included in the documents.
Postrk told the Times she had requested a new stage as a top priority, but that item did not end up on the online list. Northgate Principal John McMorris also said he was unsure whether projects he requested made it onto the final list.
Part of the confusion stemmed from the general categories in the online list, which include resource conservation, site services, site improvements, building shell integrity, interior finish upgrades, mechanical systems, electrical systems, technology systems, and new facilities. Pedersen said a more complete list, including costs, was not posted online because it was too large.
He said many items requested, such as a chemistry lab at Clayton Valley High and an engineering and design center at Northgate High, are on more detailed lists he has at his office. In the online lists, he said, these items are part of the "technology classroom enhancements," which do not include details about the types of technology to be enhanced. The final lists also include millions of dollars in items not requested by principals, such as solar panels and middle school science labs. These items were added by the district.
The Mt. Diablo school district's list of 2010 Measure C improvements is available at http://126.96.36.199/MDUSD/index.html.