RICHMOND -- West Contra Costa schools trustees on Wednesday night received some good news about the district's budget and prospects for passing a bond measure next year, along with a less-sanguine outlook for a possible parcel tax measure.
On the budget front, West Contra Costa could have $17 million more revenue at the end of the 2015-16 school year than it will have in June because of the Local Control Funding Formula initiated by the state this year, according to district Finance Director Sheri Gamba.
The funding formula was designed to provide extra state funding for school districts, such as West Contra Costa, that have a high percentage of students from low-income families.
Trustees discussed ways to spend or save the money, including bolstering school sports and music programs and increasing the district's reserves from the current 3 percent of budget to guard against the need for cuts in the future.
Having a surplus, should it materialize, would be a refreshing change for the district, which has suffered through a bankruptcy, fought to save school sports programs, wrestled to contain retiree health care liability, and struggled with drastic budget cuts during the recent recession.
"The district is really going to benefit," Gamba said. "Instead of talking about cuts, we'll be talking about programs."
The school board is already committed to smaller class sizes in kindergarten through third grades and expanding the district's transitional kindergarten program and its school resource officer program in Richmond.
West Contra Costa will be hiring about 30 elementary school teachers this spring at a cost of about $2.5 million to reduce average K-3 class sizes from 28 students to 24.
Trustees also heard the results of a survey they commissioned to assess the prospects for passing school bond and parcel tax measures next year.
The poll of 600 likely voters by San Mateo-based Godbe Research asked whether they would support a bond measure on the November 2014 ballot ranging from $36 per $100,000 of assessed valuation to $66. The results ranged from 55.9 percent support at the highest rate to 65.4 percent at the lowest; the measure would require a 55 percent threshold to pass.
District voters have approved six bond measures over the past 15 years to primarily fund the rebuilding of schools.
At the same time, 60.8 percent would definitely or probably vote for a parcel tax of 2.5 cents per square foot to bolster core academic programs, attract and retain quality teachers and other goals, with a two-thirds majority, or roughly 66.7 percent, required to pass.
The district's current parcel tax, renewed last year, provides $10.5 million annually for library and athletic programs, reducing K-3 class sizes from 31 to 28, salaries for more teachers and counselors, and other benefits.
The school board also held its leadership election for 2014, naming Charles Ramsey board president for the seventh time and the third time in four years. Ramsey, who has spearheaded West Contra Costa's school-rebuilding program, is a 20-year board veteran whose current term ends next year.
Trustee Todd Groves was elected board clerk on a 3-2 vote.