I N T H E N E W S...
Pricey school construction spending draws scrutiny in West Contra Costa bond measure
May 25, 2014 | By Theresa Harrington | www.contracostatimes.com
EXCERPT: ... The free-spending school district builds at will, proud of a $1.6 billion program that gives school communities everything they want -- including large theaters, swimming pools and dental clinics -- at costs that appear to far exceed the norm in other districts.
And on June 3, the district is going hat in hand once more to district residents, some of the poorest in the county, seeking another $270 million for such basic upgrades as removing asbestos and repairing overloaded wiring, as well as for renovating and replacing schools, including some that had been marked for possible closure due to declining enrollment....
... District staff failed to provide much of the detailed financial records of costs associated with school contracts in response to numerous requests from this newspaper and the public. But a review of publicly available data appears to show that West Contra Costa -- with more than 50 schools and about 30,000 students -- spends far more than many other districts on school construction.
School construction cost expert Paul Abramson, who creates an annual school construction report comparing costs nationwide and regionally, found the average new high school in the region that includes California cost about $43.5 million for about 1,250 students, approximately $321 a square foot, in 2013.
But in the West Contra Costa district, projected costs for 1,300-student Pinole Valley High, which is slated to be rebuilt over the next four years, have skyrocketed far beyond that. In January, Fay told the oversight committee the school would cost $200 million, more than four times the state average. By Wednesday, his estimate had increased to $250 million, including "soft costs" for architects and other services, or about 93 percent of the $270 million that voters are being asked to approve for Measure H. ... www.contracostatimes.com/ci_25829237/west-contra-costa-district-wants-voters-pass-seventh
Staff writer Robert Rogers contributed to this report
West Contra Costa County School District
Support for Kids or
'Pay to Play'?
May 25, 2014 | By Robert Rogers | www.contracostatimes.com
EXCERPT: RICHMOND -- Roughly $2.8 million has poured into campaigns to pass West Contra Costa school district bond measures since 2002, the bulk from groups that have benefited from the massive taxpayer-funded construction projects that the successful ballot measures have unleashed, according to an analysis of campaign finance records by this newspaper.
The bulk of the contributions have come from construction companies, architectural firms and organized labor, groups that have been heavily involved in building and renovating dozens of schools throughout the district thanks to the $1.44 billion the measures have freed up since 2002. If voters approve Measure H, a $270 million proposal on the June 3 ballot, it would be the seventh bond for school construction in the district passed since 1998. Those measures have saddled West Contra Costa property owners with the largest tax burden in the county. ...
Tom Butt, a Richmond councilman and owner of architectural firm Interactive Resources, has donated $67,750 to the campaign committee, and his firm has received contracts for more than $9 million in work, he said. "The people who are most willing to make a contribution are those who are involved in the contract," Butt said. "That's just the way it is. (West County) is not unique."
Butt credited school board President Charles Ramsey with spearheading the bond program and the prodigious campaign fundraising that helped sell them to voters.
"He is a fundraiser," Butt said. "When Charles comes to you, you hang on to your billfold." And Butt's firm is small potatoes compared with other major donors.
The Seville Group Inc., a Pasadena-based construction-management firm that has overseen the bond-funded school building projects, has pumped about $250,000 into the campaign committee, according to campaign finance records. WLC Architects, based in Rancho Cucamonga, has contributed more than $361,000. The school district has not provided records requested by this newspaper on how much money the two firms have made from the bond program.
SGI has also contributed to political campaigns backing Ramsey -- for his current run for mayor of Richmond and an unsuccessful 2002 bid for Assembly but not for his school board campaigns -- and school board member Madeline Kronenberg. WLC also has been a major donor to Kronenberg's campaigns. The two board members run the powerful Facilities Subcommittee, which approves construction cost increases and makes contract recommendations to the full board. ...
WLC Architects Vice President Kevin MacQuarrie said his firm has been working for the district since 1998 but declined to specify how much money it has made on the jobs. WLC is working on several current projects for the district.
He said the work in the district is "efficient and transparent" and praised the board's "vision, which is to provide the highest-quality school facilities in the state."
As for the political campaign contributions, he said it's business as usual.
"Part of what WLC does for clients is help support their bond program efforts, because it benefits the children of that district," he said. "There is absolutely no pay to play."
SGI has a checkered history, including at least 19 violations of Fair Political Practices Commission rules and charges that it wined and dined school district officials in San Diego to score lucrative contracts. ...
SGI did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Ramsey defended the bond program, and SGI, which he said has done a good job managing construction projects.
"If (critics) have evidence, bring a lawsuit," Ramsey said. "The (bond) program is well-run, it's well-managed. I'm not an expert, (but) the info we have is not raising any red flags."
Ramsey acknowledged that district staff recently recommended switching from SGI to a different firm, which had a lower bid, for part of the construction-management job during hearings last year. But the board opted to disregard staff advice. ... www.contracostatimes.com/west-county-times/ci_25829799/west-contra-costa-school-bond-program-draws-massive
Staff writer Theresa Harrington contributed to this report
CaLBOC Board Meetings:
August 9, 2014, Friday November 8, 2014, Friday February 13, 2015, Friday
May 7, 2015 - Thursday
May 8, 2015 - Friday
CaLBOC May 9, 2014 Statewide Conference Presentation:
Pay to Play in School Bond Measures What it is and Why it is Wrong
Presented by Lori Raineri of Governmental Financial Strategies www.CaLBOC.org
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