Sunday, November 10, 2002

Bond Boondoggles

My op-ed on school bonds and public-private partnerships ran in the LA Daily News today. I write about some of the history of school construction waste in California and go on to describe how private builders can build schools more quickly for less money than their public school counterparts. Here's a sample:

The poster child of school-construction nightmares is the Belmont Learning Center, just west of downtown.

The LAUSD poured more than $150 million into the school and then ceased construction -- with it halfway done -- because of environmental concerns. If the school is ever finished, the price tab will exceed $250 million, and it will go down as the costliest school in state history.

Los Angeles isn't the only city that has trouble keeping tabs on its cash.

Records show San Francisco Unified School District used as much as $100 million of bond and tax money to support a sprawling bureaucracy and to finance ill-conceived construction projects that ran far over budget. Most of that money -- as much as $68 million -- was spent on salaries for nonteaching employees, including several officials who are now the focus of corruption investigations, including one who stole more than $850,000 from the district.

And recently the state was forced to appoint a financial expert to monitor the Oakland school district after accounting discrepancies revealed the district was missing millions.

The sheer dollar volume of the new bonds makes the potential for future fraud and waste enormous.

The LAUSD will receive nearly a quarter of the new bond money -- more than $3 billion dollars (in addition to the $3.35 billion approved by local voters with Measure K). Given the district's sad history when it comes to construction, LAUSD officials should focus their attention on educating our children and allow companies actually in the construction business to handle the new school construction projects.

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