RICHMOND -- West Contra Costa schools trustees heard Monday that their district suffers from a slate of problems, including a low level of trust in the community, poor communication with stakeholders and no sense of urgency to embrace change.

The information, embodied in a draft strategic plan produced through a $200,000 grant from Chevron Corp., is part of an analysis of the district's strengths and weaknesses with a recipe for improvement moving forward.

The plan also criticizes insufficient investment in professional development of teachers and a lack of coordination among programs, leading to "poor investments, miscommunication and ineffectiveness."

The report urges trustees to promote higher expectations of students and support hiring and retaining talented teachers and principals.

The district's diversity, support from the community as evidenced by the $1.2 billion in school construction bonding capacity approved by voters, and overcoming the negative effects of budget cuts were among a group of factors cited as positives.

The draft plan is based on information gathered since March from interviews, focus groups, town hall meetings and written surveys of teachers, administrators and community members.

A key objective of the plan is finding effective ways of moving more students up to grade level in achievement and fostering "a college-going culture."

The report suggests a wide range of initiatives, including stressing to parents the importance of exposing students to reading and vocabulary early on, phasing in longer school days for kindergarten classes and providing free preschool for all students by the plan's expiration date in 2018.

Some suggestions were relatively simple enthusiasm-building gestures such as having teachers wear clothing with colors and logos of their alma maters and posting students' college-acceptance letters on campuses.

Trustee Charles Ramsey said some of the major initiatives will require money the district doesn't have at the moment to carry out.

About $20 million of the district's $175 million annual budget goes to paying full health care benefits for former employees who retired in 2010 or before and their spouses, he said.

West Contra Costa is one of the few districts in the state that provides such benefits, Ramsey said.

"So much of our budget is going to noneducational purposes," trustee Todd Groves agreed.

The district has scheduled two town hall meetings on Aug. 28 and Sept. 9 at as-yet undisclosed locations to gauge community reaction to the draft plan.

Sacramento-based consultant Jay Schenirer, head of the task force that produced the plan, will submit a final document to the board for a public hearing on Oct. 2.

Ramsey suggested scheduling a meeting with City Council members, city managers and other officials in the five cities in the district to familiarize them with the plan and more outreach to parents as a way of getting more stakeholders involved.

"We need a specific day for officials (to establish) a connection between the cities and the school district," he said.