HERCULES -- School safety and bond debt topped the list of concerns at a joint public meeting between West Contra Costa school board officials and the Hercules City Council on Tuesday evening.
The meeting, the first in four years between the two groups, was aimed chiefly at helping clear up some long-standing concerns in Hercules about the level of educational costs and services delivered by the district in the community.
Hercules and Pinole have shown the least support among the five cities served by the district for recent tax measures, according to district figures, a source of concern for school board members who look to the taxes to help cover budget shortfalls and fund construction projects.
Among other concerns, city officials have complained that Hercules is the only city with a single district-paid police officer posted to the schools. El Cerrito, Richmond, San Pablo and Pinole each have at least two.
Hercules police Chief Bill Goswick said his department received 161 calls from Hercules High/Middle School, where the lone officer is posted, 45 of them for fights on campus, since the beginning of the school year. His department is down to 20 officers from a high of 28 because of budget cuts.
"We're short-staffed on the streets and in the schools," Goswick said.
School board President Madeline Kronenberg and Superintendent Bruce Harter promised to try to take care of that problem immediately by bringing a vote to approve funding an extra officer at the school board's Feb. 6 meeting.
"It makes sense to have a second officer," said Kronenberg, who joined board members Charles Ramsey and Todd Groves in voicing support.
The school board, in turn, asked for an endorsement from the council for its petition to the state Board of Education to raise its bond debt limit to 5 percent of assessed valuation for 12 years.
Raising the debt limit would enable it to sell school construction bonds authorized under Measure E, the measure passed by district voters Nov. 6.
The El Cerrito, Richmond, San Pablo and Pinole city councils, along with the Kensington Police Protection and Community Services District, have endorsed the waiver application unanimously, but some council members seemed unimpressed.
After listening to a hurried presentation from three of the district's bond finance advisers and exhortations from Ramsey, they asked the advisers to make the presentation again at their Jan. 22 meeting and put off an endorsement vote until Feb. 12.
"These are huge numbers," Councilman Bill Kelly said. "It's a major issue. Very important."
"It's Hercules' turn," said Ramsey, who added that 57 percent of voters in Hercules supported Measure E.
"It would be tragic not to have unanimous support (for the waiver)," he said. "The district wants to make the strongest statement to the state Board of Education."
Council members also heard a presentation about the district's construction program in the city.
West Contra Costa is rebuilding Ohlone Elementary, one of Hercules' three primary schools, with both phases of the project scheduled for completion by 2015. The district is also planning to build a day care center next to the Ohlone campus that the city will operate.
"We're providing the center," Ramsey said. "It's a way to reciprocate."
If the bond debt limit waiver is approved, the district plans to allot $35 million from the sale of Measure E bonds to upgrade technology in the schools, including installing Wi-Fi on campuses.
Earlier, Harter dismissed the idea that the district would build a fourth elementary school in Hercules in the near future.
"Our consultants are telling us that enrollment is going to slip a bit and then go back up," he said. "There's no need for a new facility in the next 10 years."
Kelly and Councilwoman Sherry McCoy questioned Harter's analysis, saying there are plans for more home construction west of Interstate 80.
Harter promised to have district consultants take another look at the trend.