When school trustees spend public dollars, we expect them to behave transparently and responsibly.

Unfortunately, leaders of two Contra Costa school districts, Acalanes and West Contra Costa, are hell bent on pushing ahead with school construction programs no matter the cost or public deception required. We continue to be amazed at how they continue to shamelessly mislead.

Consider Acalance board President Kathy Coppersmith's recent missive posted on the district website attempting to justify issuing more bonds under the 2008 voter-approved construction program.

The district "has a strong history of responsible financial management," she begins. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Construction on the new Portola Middle School continues July 2, 2014.
Construction on the new Portola Middle School continues July 2, 2014. (Chris Treadway)

Repayment of bonds already issued will drive up tax rates beyond what voters were promised. But trustees plan to try to slip through a legal loophole as they seek a judge's blessing to take on more debt.

At issue is not only the violation of the tax-rate promise, it's also what voters were never told. The district has issued exorbitantly expensive bonds. Repayment, with interest, will cost taxpayers five times the principal borrowed. By comparison, the ratio for a typical home loan is 2-1.

Officials should figure out a plan to restructure and bring down long-term borrowing costs -- and then honestly present it to voters for approval.

Meanwhile, in West Contra Costa, officials are silencing the only employee who spoke honestly about the school district's out-of-control school construction program.


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For years, Trustee Charles Ramsey and Superintendent Bruce Harter led the charge for more and more and more spending. The district has sought voter approval to borrow money seven times in 17 years. The district has issued more construction bonds than any K-12 district in the state execpt the much-larger Los Angeles and San Diego districts.

As the district once again sought voter approval last spring to increase the program size from a $1.6 billion to $1.9 billion, Bill Fay, associate superintendent for operations, was questioned by the bond oversight committee about construction costs.

He told the truth, something others have been unwilling to do. He explained that there were no budget controls.

For the first time, voters there rejected a bond measure. Now, Fay and the district are parting ways, citing "foundational differences in approach," which says far more about Ramsey and Harter than about Fay.

As part of the deal, which keeps Fay on the payroll until September 2015, he agrees to say nothing disparaging about district programs. Trustees have bought his silence, at taxpayer expense.

For some reason, officials of both districts fear telling voters the truth.