RICHMOND -- A broken promise and a long list of unfinished projects are causing tensions between the West Contra Costa school district and its independent bond oversight committee.
As the Securities and Exchange Commission continues to investigate the district's $1.6 billion construction bond program financing, some members of the committee and the public raised questions Wednesday about the scope of an upcoming audit, mounting change orders and which projects the district expects to complete in light of voters' rejection of $270 million Measure * in June.
"When you have to cut the budget," committee member Charley Cowens asked Superintendent Bruce Harter, "what do you cut? When you have more money, what do you spend it on? ... I'd like to see (a list) in terms of cascading resource levels, so we can see more about what your priorities are in terms of what do you do or ... not do."
But Harter told the committee that he's not sure which schools the district will be able to afford to rebuild with the roughly $600 million it has left of the $1.6 billion because it will depend on the bid climate.
"This is a very uncertain climate that we live in, in the sense that we're dealing with construction prices that we don't know where they're going to go, and we don't know where our assessed values are going to go," he said. "The only thing we do know is we do know how much money the voters have approved. And what we're attempting to do is to build all our schools to a standard that the board has approved with the resources that we have, recognizing that at the end of the program, we may not be able to get to every school without additional help from the voters."
Frustration grew during the meeting, when members of the audit subcommittee learned that the district reneged on a promise made last week by Martin Coyne, the district's executive eirector of business services, regarding changes to the scope of an upcoming audit. Coyne told the committee Aug. 18 that it could review the additions it recommended to the audit contract at its Sept. 11 meeting, in advance of the board's approval.
But at Wednesday's meeting, Coyne distributed a revised audit scope, saying the board's facilities subcommittee on Monday rejected four of the audit subcommittee's recommendations and added two other items, which trustees will approve next Wednesday.
Committee member Norma Martinez-Rubin said she felt like the volunteer committee had wasted its time and energy in what ended up being a misguided attempt to review information and be heard.
"We attempted to try to understand the process, we attempted to give input, we attempted to respond to members of the public, and here we go again," she said. "I'm quite disappointed. But disappointment doesn't count, it seems. It's insufficient."
Committee member Ken Jett said he plans to address the board about his frustrations.
"It just doesn't seem right that we have to sit up here and subject ourselves to what we have been subjected to, along with members of the public," he said. "We have to almost beg for someone to respond."
Harter said the changes were his idea and that he felt it was important to move the contract to the board quickly so the auditors could begin their work.
Cowens suggested that committee members speak to the board Wednesday and ask trustees to delay their vote until after the subcommittee's next meeting.
The committee also formed a change order subcommittee to review millions of dollars in change orders to construction projects funded by school bonds.
The West Contra Costa school board expects to approve its bond program auditor at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Lovonya DeJean Middle School, 3400 MacDonald Ave. in Richmond.
More information is available by calling 510-231-1101 or visiting www.wccusd.net. Click on Sept. 3 agenda (available by 5 p.m. Friday)
To see Bond Oversight Committee meeting video clips, visit www.contracostatimes.com/education.