RICHMOND -- Pointing to the need to carry out a new strategic plan and add more spending flexibility in its school construction program, West Contra Costa school district trustees this week approved a second poll in a year to gauge voter interest in new taxes.
The poll, to be done by longtime district contractor Godbe Research between Nov. 1 and Nov. 21, will ask 600 likely voters how they would respond to parcel tax and bond measures on the June 2014 and November 2014 ballots.
The district did a parcel tax survey in January but did not put a tax on the ballot this year.
The vote to spend $50,000 on the poll carried by a 4-1 margin, with trustee Elaine Merriweather casting the lone no vote.
Although the district has been told it could receive a huge increase in revenue from the state Local Control Funding Formula over the next eight years, West Contra Costa is facing a short-term cash crunch that a parcel tax could help relieve, Superintendent Bruce Harter told trustees.
The district's 2013-14 budget of about $176 million is down about $29 million from the 2007-08 school year, with roughly the same attendance, he said.
Harter said West Contra Costa will receive no more than about $6.5 million this year from the funding formula, which is designed to narrow the income gap between richer and poorer districts.
The strategic plan, based on a series of town hall meetings within the district earlier this year, calls for new spending on priorities such as preschool and counseling programs and full-day kindergarten, Harter said.
School Board President Madeline Kronenberg said she thinks the district needs to find out whether residents are willing to pass a parcel tax to help pay for "about 14 new initiatives" in the strategic plan.
"We don't have the ability to fund what they want," Kronenberg said. "We need to have an election to find out what is out there for us to harvest."
Board member Randy Enos agreed and mentioned the need to raise teacher salaries and benefits, which are among the lowest in the Bay Area.
"If you don't ask, you don't get anything," Enos said. "If we don't get good young teachers, the losers are the kids."
In November, voters approved Measure G, extending to June 30, 2019, a parcel tax of 7.2 cents per square foot on developed property.
Trustee Charles Ramsey argued that the district should float another bond measure alongside a parcel tax to help complete a program to rebuild and refurbish the district's more than 50 schools. District voters have passed six bond measures over the past 15 years.
Bond program adviser Dave Olson told the board that another bond could allow the district the flexibility to float more debt for school construction if its property valuations drop and force tax rates on existing bonds to rise to the maximum agreed to by voters.
Passing another bond measure will establish a new revenue stream with a new maximum tax rate, Olson said.
"A decline in the assessed valuation can constrain (building) programs," Olson said. "A new bond would give us additional flexibility to move things around as (assessed valuation) changes."
Merriweather disagreed with her colleagues about the poll, saying the district has too much on its plate in digesting the strategic plan and funding formula and new curriculum standards to go to the voters again next year.
"We should postpone the survey for at least a year," she said. "Rushing in is not a good decision."