West Contra Costa school board Trustee Charles Ramsey doesn't understand the meaning of the word "no."
After the defeat this month of Measure H, district officials' attempt to pass their seventh bond measure in 17 years, Ramsey claimed voters were saying, "Hey, not right now, but maybe in the future."
Actually, Mr. Ramsey, the ballot did not have a "ask me later" option. The choices were either yes or no. And 54 percent of voters said no to a school construction program that has spiraled out of control.
They said no to a district that has issued more construction bonds than any California K-12 district except the much larger Los Angeles and San Diego districts. They said no to increasing the program from an already unconscionable $1.6 billion to $1.9 billion.
West County residents, already paying the highest property tax rates in the county, said no to expanding a building program that has no cost controls, in which the projected price of a high school is four times the 2013 median from a survey of the California-Arizona-Nevada-Hawaii region.
And they said no, Mr. Ramsey, to your sleazy leveraging of the school-building program to bolster your political career, most recently to fatten the coffers of your Richmond mayoral campaign with contributions from contractors, architectural firms and labor groups that benefit from the construction.
Voters understand that children deserve good schools. But they also realize that there are trade-offs, that if you tap out taxpayers to build classrooms they won't be able to help fund teachers.
Unfortunately, Ramsey's political spin, suggesting that voters might approve more bonds later, appears to be an excuse for continuing the district's profligate ways.
He doesn't get it. The voters' message was clear: It's time for district officials to start living within a reasonable budget, to practice the sort of financial responsibility we should be modeling for our children.
Of the $1.6 billion of bonding authority already approved, the district has used about $1 billion. It's time for them to figure out how to complete the program with the balance. After all, Superintendent Bruce Harter, when seeking support for the 2010 measure, said that would be all the district would need. Yet district leaders went back to the well again in 2012 and this year.
This time, voters got smart. They educated themselves. They recognized that they were being conned. Even some members of the bond oversight committee appointed by the school board couldn't stomach this.
The voters didn't say "maybe in the future," they said "enough." They said "no."