A story incorrectly reported the name of the organization that donated $100,000 to help defeat the Measure H construction bond in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. The California Charter Schools Association Advocates donated the funds. Also, Steve Levin is communications director for the California Charter Schools Association Advocates.
RICHMOND -- West Contra Costa school officials are curbing ambitious building plans now that voters rejected the district's seventh school construction bond measure since 1998, after approving six earlier measures that showered the district with $1.6 billion to renovate campuses and build gleaming new schools.
"We have the most generous voters and they really have been supportive of us," said Board President Charles Ramsey on Wednesday. "And we understand that sometimes they say, 'Hey, not right now, but maybe in the future.'"
Amid mounting opposition, fueled in part by an infusion of cash from a charter school association, voters soundly defeated the $270 million measure, with 45 percent supporting it and 55 percent opposed.
The defeat means the district will postpone construction of Shannon and Highland elementary schools until Pinole Valley High, estimated to cost at least $181 million, is finished, Ramsey said. It will also prevent the district from beginning construction on Collins, Crespi and Grant elementary schools until another bond measure is passed, he added.
Measure H faced the first-ever coordinated opposition to a district school bond, and money flowed to both oppose and support it. Supporters said all children in the district deserved to learn in state-of-the-art schools, but critics pointed to the high cost of schools that appeared to be guided by scope rather than budgets or timelines.
Three groups formed to oppose the measure, including a grass-roots organization of Native Americans called The Committee of Families for the Safety of Our Children, a political action committee of district residents called Parents for a Better Education, and a group called Contra Costa Families for Better Schools that received about $100,000 from the California Charter Schools Association Advocates.
The Committee of Families for the Safety of our Children opposed the bond because it worried the high taxes would force families into foreclosure, said organizer and district resident Mike Ali-Kinney in an email Wednesday. At a recent school board meeting Ali-Kinney predicted the measure would fail and promised to give Ramsey his No on Measure H sign as a gift.
Parents for a Better Education raised $7,915, which paid for about 11,000 fliers and 16,000 robocalls, said parent leader Ben Steinberg.
"I think this is going to be a very important step in getting the district to refocus on education and academic leadership," Steinberg said Wednesday.
In general, school bond measures are easier to pass than parcel taxes, because they require 55 percent voter support rather than two thirds. Richmond Councilman Tom Butt, a Measure H supporter and contractor whose architecture firm has contracts for school construction projects financed by bonds, said he was perplexed why voters opposed it.
"Voter fatigue comes up in any election when people want a tax," he said. "I don't know why they voted Measure H down. For me personally, there is nothing more important than public schools, but I guess some people feel differently."
But there was also plenty of money to drum up public support for the bond, including $10,000 from Butt's firm this spring. The Yes on H campaign raised about $437,200, with large contributions from contractors, labor unions, financial advisers and others who could benefit from district construction projects.
Butt said it was the "first time I recall that there was any big money behind opposition, mailers and that sort of thing."
Steve Levin, director of communications for the California Charter Schools Association Advocates, said in an email that the organization entered the fray because the district refused to share its parcel tax proceeds with local charters or to discuss sharing its Measure H proceeds with them if it passed. The association recently sued the district over the parcel tax dispute.
"Measure H is only the most recent among numerous examples of the district's unwillingness to treat charter public schools fairly and equitably," he said, "as evidenced in their refusal to negotiate with the charter community over their bond proposal."
Contact Theresa Harrington at 925-945-4764 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa. Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/sfbaynewsrogers.