CONTRA COSTA COUNTY (CBS SF) — Eight school districts in Contra Costa County are asking voters to approve hundreds of millions of dollars in bonds and parcel taxes in the Nov. 8 election, with perhaps the most contentious being West Contra Costa Unified School District’s Measure T.

If approved by a two-thirds majority, Measure T would extend the existing 7.2 cents per square foot tax for another eight years, raising $9.8 million dollars a year.

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That means the annual tax bill for owners of a 1,500 square-foot home would be roughly $108.

The money would be used for programs and services for students, including after school programs, counselors, sports, libraries and campus security. It would also be spent on “protecting core academics,” including reading, writing, math and science, according to supporters.

Measure T money could be used to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade and for “attracting and retaining quality teachers.”

“Sacramento is not adding a whole bunch (of money),” said school board president Randall Enos. “If you’re going to try to maintain the quality of your classes, you’re really going to have to take a look at (Measure T).”

Opponents, however, argue that the district hasn’t yet proven it can manage taxpayer dollars responsibly, even as it oversees more than $1 billon in previously approved bonds, the costs of which is still being borne by property owners.

The management of those bonds was the subject of a recently released forensic audit, initiated after a district employee made allegations of systemic waste and abuse.

The district is currently taking public comments on the audit report, which found several areas of concern, including conflicts of interest, budgeting problems and issues with the district’s handling of vendor contracts.

“The district is simply not in a position to ask voters to trust it to use new tax money responsibly,” said Jack Weir, president of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association.

Weir said he likes the new superintendent, hired in the spring, and is looking forward to supporting the district in the future, but for now is asking voters to reject Measure T.

“I totally disagree with him, respectfully,” WCCUSD Superintendent Matthew Duffy said.

The bond program is being closely monitored and the audit recommendations are being adopted, Duffy said.

Additionally, the parcel tax program is a completely different entity and has never been criticized for management problems, he said.

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Also, the bond money can only be spent on construction and maintenance at the nearly 30,000-student, 52-campus district and can’t be used to improve or even maintain the existing level of instruction or programs for students in the classroom, Duffy said.

“I really believe this district is going to go from good to great,” Duffy said. “We want to make sure that we have the resources to do it.”

The other parcel tax in front of Contra Costa voters is Pittsburg Unified School District’s Measure S, which also needs a two-thirds majority to pass.

Measure S, a renewal of a tax first passed by Pittsburg voters in 2008, would raise about $1.2 million annually over seven years by adding a $91 per parcel tax to property owners’ yearly bill. The money would be spent on art, music and sports programs, as well as to attract and retain teachers and staff, according to supporters.

Contra Costa County Supervisor Federal Glover and Pittsburg City Councilman Salvatore Evola support the measure. There are no names or arguments listed in opposition.

The other six school funding measures in the county are all bond measures that need 55 percent voter approval to pass, including two in the John Swett Unified School District, Measures P and Q.

Measure P would raise $40.2 million to build a new Carquinez Middle School that meets current earthquake safety standards. Measure Q would raise $20 million to finish the renovation and safety upgrades at John Swett High School.

As with all of the county’s bond measures in this election, no names or arguments are listed in opposition on the ballot.

Measure U in the Liberty Union High School District would raise $122 million in bonds to upgrade, repair and expand facilities at the Liberty, Freedom and Heritage high school campuses.

The Martinez Unified School District is asking voters to approve Measure R, a $120 million bond measure to upgrade and expand its elementary schools.

Measure V in the Moraga Elementary School District would raise $33 million in bonds to modernize and expand the district’s four campuses.

“Every Moraga school is nearly 50 years old and requires renovation,” the ballot argument in favor of Measure V states.

Measure W in the Oakley Union Elementary School District would raise $31 million in bonds to build a new campus and modernize and repair the district’s existing eight schools.

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