RICHMOND -- West Contra Costa school trustees took a step Wednesday evening to improve communication with a district school bond oversight committee, but committee leaders remained skeptical that the effort will be sufficient.
School districts that pass school construction bonds have volunteer citizens' committees that oversee the fiscal health of the programs and act as mediators between the district and taxpayers.
West Contra Costa's Citizens Bond Oversight Committee thinks the need for oversight in the district is especially critical because voters have passed six bond measures over the past 15 years.
The measures, aimed at repairing or replacing more than 50 aging schools, have created more than $1.2 billion in bonding capacity, making the program the third largest in the state, behind only those of the much larger Los Angeles and San Diego school districts.
West Contra Costa has also received debt limit waivers from the state Office of Education enabling it to exceed state-imposed borrowing limits.
In the midst of these issues, oversight committee chair Ivette Ricco says her committee is being starved for information about a regular bond program performance audit now underway, details about project expenditures and other concerns.
"It's counterproductive when we have questions and concerns and there is no (information)," Ricco said. "We have people on the committee who have the knowledge to do the (oversight) work, but they are not getting the cooperation that we desire."
Ricco, a past president of the Pinole Chamber of Commerce, criticized a district report that she said contained "pretty pictures" showing the status of construction projects but not much else.
"They need to create some format structure and worksheets that speak to what is going on in an easy, readable format for us to understand," she said.
In response, the district has announced what it calls an 11-point program aimed at improving communications in response to complaints voiced in an earlier joint meeting between the school board and the committee.
Among other efforts, West Contra Costa will add a section to its website that includes answers to questions from the committee and the public about the bond program, and district staff will provide tours of school construction projects at the committee's request.
"They asked for a full-time resource person, but the entire bond program staff will be available," said district Chief Operations Officer Bill Fay, who serves as liaison between the committee and district leadership.
Still, Ricco and committee Secretary Charles Cowens expressed skepticism about the effort and cited growing frustration among committee members who say they don't have enough access to do their jobs.
"We need to stem the tide of possible resignations (from the committee)," Ricco told trustees Wednesday evening. "We need your support to keep these volunteers involved."