RICHMOND -- West Contra Costa School District voters sent the seventh school construction bond since 1998 down to defeat Tuesday, after approving six earlier measures that brought the district $1.6 billion to renovate and rebuild schools.

Measure H would have provided the district with another $270 million, which combined with previous measures would have totaled $1.9 million for construction projects.

But voters soundly rejected this latest request for a handout, with 45 percent supporting the measure and 55 percent opposing it.

In general, school bond measures are easier to pass than parcel taxes, because they require less voter support -- 55 percent rather than two thirds.

Although West County voters have been generous with their schools in the past, opposition mounted for the first time ever during this campaign as critics pointed to the high cost of schools and a program described by Associate Superintendent of Operations Bill Fay as "scope-driven" instead of being guided by budgets or timelines.

The district serves approximately 29,000 students attending 50 schools in Richmond, San Pablo, El Cerrito, Kensington, Pinole and Hercules. Supporters said the district needed the additional money to keep its school construction program booming. With several schools already renovated or rebuilt, the district wants to complete more than a dozen projects in the works -- including Pinole Valley High -- which Fay said last month would cost $250 million when "soft costs" for architects and other nonconstruction work are factored in. Fay said the district would be able to complete all of its planned projects even if Measure H failed, but that some would need to be delayed several years.


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The district hoped to use the new money to help reconstruct nine more elementary schools and build a child care health center and practice gym at Richmond High.

The district would not have been able to access the new bond money without approval from the state Board of Education to raise the debt ceiling from the legal limit of 2.5 percent of assessed property values in the district to 5 percent through 2025.

To keep construction projects going, the district board expects to approve a waiver application June 11 asking the state Board of Education to increase a previous waiver for its 2005 Measure J to 5 percent through 2025 and extend a 5 percent waiver it received for its 2010 Measure D through 2025.

Theresa Harrington covers education. Reach her at 925-945-4764 or tharrington@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa.