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August 24, 2010 / J. Shaw

L.A.'s 'Taj Mahal' School's Real Cost

As you may have heard, California will totally run out of money next month and have to begin “paying” its bills with IOU’s.
But, not to worry.  As apparent from the following article, they are pinching pennies everywhere to get back on track….
 L.A.’s ‘Taj Mahal’ School’s Real Cost

SCHOOL DAZE: Los Angeles’ new Robert F. Kennedy school, with its trademark postmodern towers, took 20 years and cost $578 million to build. Education: For anyone who ever doubted bureaucrats’ ability to spend, one need look only at Los Angeles’ newest public school, the most expensive ever built. If only the education inside was as rich.

With a price tag of $578 million, the new Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools is an impressive building — perhaps indicative of what some call the Los Angeles Unified School District’s edifice complex.

Critics have already dubbed it the Taj Mahal. Built on the site of the former Ambassador Hotel, where presidential candidate Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, the 4,200-student school is a monument to the fiscal irresponsibility and extravagance of the nation’s second-largest school district.

Remember, this is a district that complains chronically about being short of funding. And with good reason. The sprawling L.A. school district’s 885 schools educate more than 600,000 students — about one out of every 10 students in California, and currently has a deficit of more than $600 million.

The district is undergoing a building boom, with 131 new schools being built now to ease expected overcrowding. But this is the third L.A. mega-school in as many years, each one pricier than the last.

It reflects a peculiar inversion of priorities — where buildings are lavishly funded, while the teachers’ union does its best to undermine badly needed reforms. Who’s looking out for the students? This is public policy at its worst, squandering precious money that will further weaken Los Angeles’ failing public school system.

Just in case you’re curious, what does half a bil get you in a high school? The new RFK school includes fine art murals, a marble memorial to the late Robert F. Kennedy, a state-of-the-art swimming pool and even keeps bits of the old hotel in place. It has talking benches — no joke — to commemorate the history of the site.

Part of the project is an arts school designed, as the Associated Press put it, “as a landmark, with a stainless steel, postmoderistic tower encircled by a roller coaster-like swirl.”

“Over 20 years,” the AP notes, “the project grew to encompass a dance studio with cushioned maple floors, a modern kitchen with a restaurant-quality pizza oven, a 10-acre park and teacher planning rooms between classrooms.”

In short, lots of atmospherics, but little to do with education.

“New buildings are nice, but when they’re run by the same people who’ve given us a 50% dropout rate, they’re a big waste of taxpayer money,” noted Ben Austin, a member of the California Board of Education and also executive director of a school reform group called Parent Revolution. “Parents aren’t fooled.”

It’s a twist on the old dictum: Those that can, teach. Those that can’t, build. Right now, that describes the Los Angeles Unified School District.

For the record, Los Angeles has a 50% dropout rate, and its school test scores are among the nation’s lowest. Why? A recent Los Angeles Times series looked in extraordinary detail at school test scores over seven years and found the biggest influence on students’ test performance was individual teachers — not socioeconomic background, or the school they attended, or its location, or spending.

So why build big, hyperexpensive temples to learning if you’re only going to fill them with rotten teachers? Rather than building more spectacular educational Taj Mahals, school officials and parents would be wiser to challenge the all-powerful United Teachers Los Angeles union, which has put a headlock on all meaningful school reforms.

If teachers are rewarded based on performance, not tenure or political clout, Los Angeles will finally get the schools it deserves and wants — and for which it has already paid handsomely.

Submitted by Iverson, 

Article Investors Business Daily


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