SACRAMENTO -- The state Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a debt limit waiver for the West Contra Costa schools that will allow the district to continue its $1 billion-plus school construction program.

The waiver was necessary because the district's schools have $797 million in outstanding bond debt, which left no more bonding capacity for the $360 million in debt authorized by Measure E, passed by district voters on Nov. 6. Measure E was the district's fifth successful bond measure for school construction since 2000.

The state limits a unified school district's bond debt to 2.5 percent of the total assessed valuation of property within its boundaries while elementary and high school districts are allowed 1.5 percent. West Contra Costa, a unified district, is being allowed to lift its limit to 5 percent for 12 years for Measure E bonds.

The district's total bond debt could rise to more than $1 billion when the 25- to 30-year bonds authorized under Measure E are sold.

The district will use proceeds from the sale of the bonds to replace, rebuild or improve 20 of its schools as well as invest in classroom technology, said Charles Ramsey, a 20-year school board veteran who has served as the bond program's champion.

A new Pinole Valley High School, which will begin construction this summer, will be the centerpiece of current program, Ramsey said.

"(The debt limit waiver) is a tremendous validation of the district and the program," Ramsey said.

West Contra Costa has the third-largest construction bond program in California, behind the larger Los Angeles and San Diego districts.


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