CONCORD -- In split votes Monday night, the Mt. Diablo school board raised the tax rate property owners will pay for new school construction projects and extended the contracts for the superintendent and four other top administrators.

Despite pre-election promises to keep the tax rate for school construction bonds at $60 per $100,000 of assessed value, the trustees voted 4-1 to raise the tax rate to $89 per $100,000 this year and $95 per $100,000 in 2015.

Raising the payments allows the district to sell the remaining construction bonds within three years to take advantage of lower interest rates and construction costs. It also means projects will be completed much sooner. As a result, property owners will pay more now, but less over the life of the bonds because interest rates will be lower, according to the district's financial adviser.

Trustee Linda Mayo voted no, saying she wanted to keep the promise she made when she campaigned for Measure C.

"I voted no because I see all the faces of the people when I went door to door and said the tax rate wouldn't increase," she said.

By law, the district can tax property owners a maximum of $60 per $100,000 in assessed value for both the Measure C bond initiative approved by voters in 2002 and a subsequent Measure C bond initiative approved in 2010, district lawyers said.

The board also unanimously agreed that $42 million of the newly issued bond funds would be spent on new high school projects prioritized by parents, teachers and administrators, then approved by school site councils by June.

In a controversial move, the board also voted 4-1 to extend until June 2014 the contracts of the superintendent, general counsel, chief financial officer, assistant superintendent for personnel, and assistant superintendent for student achievement and school support. Trustee Cheryl Hansen voted against the extensions, saying she preferred to wait until after the November election so newly elected trustees could help select district leaders.

Hansen and some members of the public also questioned why the contract for Mildred Browne, assistant superintendent for special education and student services, was not extended. Her contract expires June 30, 2013, when all the others were also set to expire.

Board President Sherry Whitmarsh did not explain why she did not recommend Browne's contract for extension. She and trustees Gary Eberhart and Linda Mayo said it was important to extend the other contracts so the administrators would not start looking for new jobs over the summer.

Waiting until new board members are elected could subject the administrative team to extreme political pressure, which could be paralyzing, Mayo said. She also said new trustees often take one or two years to comprehend the breadth of the work that goes into governing.

"I'm not confident that a board member who's elected in November would have the knowledge of the district and the complex work that it takes to support a school district, and that this individual would be knowledgeable to make a decision within one month," she said.

Before the final vote, Mayo made a motion to remove general counsel Greg Rolen's contract extension. Hansen sided with Mayo but the motion was defeated 3-2 without comment.

ONLINE
Details about the Mt. Diablo school board meeting are available by calling 925-945-4764 or going to http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us.
For additional details, including video clips, read the On Assignment blog at www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment.