RICHMOND -- The chairwoman of a citizens committee in charge of overseeing the West Contra Costa school district's $1.6 billion bond program this week cheered an "enhanced" performance audit planned for the district's massive bond construction program.

Ivette Ricco, chair of the district's Citizens Bond Oversight Committee, said at Wednesday night's school board meeting that negotiations with Superintendent Bruce Harter over the audit had produced an agreement to "bridge the gap between the district and the committee."

The CBOC has complained consistently that it needs more and better information about spending on school construction to do its job properly.

West Contra Costa has spent about $1 billion on building new schools and refurbishing older schools out of the $1.6 billion authorized under six bond measures passed since 1998.

A seventh measure, Measure H, was rejected by district voters in June. The board on Wednesday selected a firm to perform the audit, with the scope to be finalized after the oversight committee reviews the contract.

"Thank you for getting this right," Ricco said. "Let's put an end to the arm wrestling. The future of the bond program might depend on this."

The audit, to be performed by the Pleasanton office of Vavrinek, Trine, Day & Co., will be completed by the end of November, giving the CBOC and the district months to review it before the March 21 reporting deadline, said Terri Montgomery, the company's office managing partner.


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Under questioning from board President Charles Ramsey, Montgomery said the audit will scrutinize closely such issues as cost adjustments with school construction contractors, known as change orders.

"The level of detail (in the audit) will be much higher thanany I have had in 20 years of working with school districts," Montgomery said.

Ricco said the CBOC had formed a new subcommittee to follow the construction of a new Pinole Valley High School, the next of the district's five comprehensive high schools scheduled to be replaced.

Simultaneously, Ramsey announced the district will issue a $135 million bond next year that will help cover the cost of the school.

Pinole Valley students began attending classes on a temporary campus next to the school's football field last month so that the old campus can be demolished and replaced.

Trustees also heard a report on the district's pursuit of $20 million to $30 million from a little-used pool of state funds for school seismic safety upgrades.

California has $199.5 million authorized under Prop. 1D in 2006 set aside for the upgrades, but only $43.3 million has been spent statewide.

Of that amount, West Contra Costa received $13.9 million that it is using to help pay for the construction of Fred T. Korematsu Middle School in El Cerrito, the largest amount any district has received so far.

West Contra Costa applied for the money after it was forced to tear down Portola Middle School, which Korematsu Middle School will replace, because it was identified as a landslide danger during an earthquake.

The district is applying for funding for about 10 schools that qualify, with Gompers Continuation High School in Richmond, Juan Crespi Middle School in El Sobrante, Pinole Valley High School, Richmond High School and Helms Middle School in San Pablo furthest along in the pipeline.

The program requires a 50 percent match, a major barrier for some districts, but can be applied retroactively to schools that replaced those that needed seismic upgrades, Ramsey said.

"We've already built some of the schools, so that accounts for some of the match," he said.

During a report on the district's summer school program, trustees learned that the new online writing program using tablet computers has been a success, with 80 percent of students enjoying the use of the tablets in class.

Moving to tablets and handheld devices for writing, testing and evaluation is a key element in the district's technology plan.

Trustees also agreed to participate in Attendance Awareness Month in September by working to improve tracking and publicizing data about student attendance and establishing goals for attendance improvement.