RICHMOND -- The West Contra Costa school board voted unanimously Feb. 26 to put a $270 million school construction bond measure on the June ballot.
If passed, the bond would be the seventh bond measure approved by voters to repair and replace dilapidated schools since the district's current bond program began in 1998.
Bonds authorized under the measure will be needed to continue construction programs at other schools while the district takes on its next major project, building a new Pinole Valley High School, said bond program adviser Dave Olson of KNN Public Finance in Oakland.
The district is beginning construction on a temporary campus using portable classrooms on the Pinole Valley baseball field to be used while the 47-year-old campus is being torn down and a new school built on the same site.
"(Without the measure), we would have to slow other programs down," Olson said. "Pinole Valley would squeeze out other projects."
The bond would add $10 in taxes per $100,000 in assessed valuation for property owners to fulfill the district's immediate plans, up to a $36-per-$100,000 tax rate maximum as other bonds are sold under the authorization.
Taxpayers are currently paying $281 annually per $100,000 in assessed valuation for bonds sold under the six other authorizations now in effect.
Thus, the owner of a home assessed at $183,000, the median for a house in the district, is paying $514 per year to build schools across the district's five cities.
All five bond measures passed since 2000 are at their maximum tax rates disclosed to voters at the time of the elections, Olson said.
Olson said the district may be able to keep tax rates below $300 per $100,000 as older bonds are retired, based on 4 percent annual growth in assessed valuation. Slower growth would require projects to be cut back to maintain the tax rate ceiling.
The bond program has constructed or rebuilt more than 30 of the district's schools, with about 20 left to go.
Superintendent Bruce Harter said the district has a commitment to maintain the high quality of construction that went into earlier projects, such as the new El Cerrito High School, which opened in 2009.
"We had a bunch of schools built in the '60s and '70s that just didn't last," Harter said. "Pinole Valley High School was a perfect example of a school built on the cheap that has not been very viable for the last 15 years."
The board's resolve was strengthened by the results of a poll of 600 likely voters by San Mateo-based Godbe Research announced in December that showed 61.8 percent would definitely or probably support a $280 million bond measure on the November 2014 ballot, with a 55 percent threshold needed to pass.
Voter sentiment for a measure on the June ballot was slightly lower.
Trustee Madeline Kronenberg pointed to state matching funds that can be accessed when local money is available.
"We've done many schools, and there are many schools that need to be done," Kronenberg said. "Don't leave the state money on the table."
However, the chairwoman of the district's Citizens Bond Oversight Committee expressed reservations about whether the construction spending has translated into success in the classroom.
"In most cases, the new and/or renovated schools are meeting community expectations with improved, updated facilities and new-age technology," said Ivette Ricco, a past president of the Pinole Chamber of Commerce. "However, there remain questions as to whether these new facilities have improved academics in the district."