RICHMOND -- Although already paying some of the highest property taxes associated with school ballot measures in the state, two more West Contra Costa funding measures appeared headed to victory Tuesday.
Votes for Measure E -- a bond measure that would provide the district with $360 in construction bond funds to pay for additional school upgrades -- far surpassed the 55 percent needed to pass it. Measure G -- a parcel tax that needed two-thirds voter approval to pass -- was also far ahead of that goal. It would extend the district's existing parcel tax five years beyond its expiration date of June 13, 2014.
In a district that posts some of the lowest test scores in the county and state, voters proved they were willing to pay to improve schools. However, there were still many vote by mail ballots to be counted.
With nearly 29,000 students and about 60 schools, the district has in the past successfully asked voters to pass bond measures totaling $1.27 billion in 1998, 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2010. In addition, voters approved a parcel tax in 2008 for which they pay 7.2 cents per square foot on buildings or $7.20 per unimproved parcel.
Measure E supporters said the district has not been able to complete all of the reconstruction and improvements necessary at every school. Fifteen campuses are slated to get upgrades or rebuilds if Measure E passes, including nine elementary schools, three middle schools, two high schools and one continuation school.
The district estimates the bond would add about $48 per $100,000 in assessed valuation to homeowners' tax bills, with a maximum of $60 per $100,000. Bonds could be issued for up to 40 years, which could extend the repayment period to 2062, according to the ballot statement.
Many residents who support Measure E also support Measure G, saying it would help offset future budget cuts if state funding remains unstable. If approved, the parcel tax would be extended to June 19, 2019, and provide continued funding for academic programs, smaller class sizes, after-school programs, college and career training, technology and lab materials. The money would also be used to attract and retain high quality teachers.
Opponents of both measures said the district has taxed residents enough, and it's time to rein in spending. Many of the projects named in the bond measure were also on the list of projects the district originally expected to be completed with a $380 million bond measure approved two years ago, they said.
In June, voters rejected a parcel tax extension that would have increased the amount. Although the request was scaled back this time around, opponents said the district needs to become more resourceful and accountable for the money it spends.
But supporters countered that the district has proved that it now knows how to spend money wisely, which it demonstrated by paying off its state loan early and freeing itself of receivership.
Theresa Harrington covers education. Contact her at 925-945-4764. Follow her at twitter.com/tunedtotheresa.