$578 million for a school, and layoffs for teachers

The hubris of the American education establishment is on full display at the new Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Los Angeles, price tag: $578 million.

It’s not just the pensions that are gold-plated in today’s schools. Read this description of the new school from an article by the Associated Press:

At RFK, the features include fine art murals and a marble memorial depicting the complex’s namesake, a manicured public park, a state-of-the-art swimming pool and preservation of pieces of the original hotel [at the site where the school was built].

Partly by circumstance and partly by design, the Los Angeles Unified School District has emerged as the mogul of Taj Mahals.

The RFK complex follows on the heels of two other LA schools among the nation’s costliest — the $377 million Edward R. Roybal Learning Center, which opened in 2008, and the $232 million Visual and Performing Arts High School that debuted in 2009.

(snip)

Los Angeles is not alone, however, in building big. Some of the most expensive schools are found in low-performing districts — New York City has a $235 million campus; New Brunswick, N.J., opened a $185 million high school in January.

Nationwide, dozens of schools have surpassed $100 million with amenities including atriums, orchestra-pit auditoriums, food courts, even bamboo nooks. The extravagance has led some to wonder where the line should be drawn and whether more money should be spent on teachers.

The Roybal school, mentioned above, “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.” But the real kicker for the Los Angeles school district comes in the paragraph I snipped above, which I now present:

The pricey schools have come during a sensitive period for the nation’s second-largest school system: Nearly 3,000 teachers have been laid off over the past two years, the academic year and programs have been slashed. The district also faces a $640 million shortfall and some schools persistently rank among the nation’s lowest performing.

Meanwhile, schools’ complaints about their funding shortfalls led Congress this month to pass a $10 billion “EduJobs” bailout. Twelve percent of the money, or $1.2 billion, went to none other than the state of California, Frederick Hess notes at National Review Online.

Spending has been rising on more than construction, Hess reports:

[The] National Center for Education Statistics, for instance, reports that, nationally, current K–12 per-pupil expenditures increased from 2003–04 to 2006–2007 (the most recent school year for which the NCES reports spending) by 17 percent — from $8,310 to $9,683. Indeed NCES data make clear that the last two years have been the first time in more than a half-century that per-pupil spending has declined from the year before. And even in the past two years, job losses in K–12 education have been much more modest than in the private sector. It’s befuddling that [Education Secretary Arne] Duncan is making excuses for officials bemoaning their twice-a-century belt tightening, rather than encouraging them to take a hard look at benefits, staffing, operations, and management.

Duncan, who singled out for praise the $1.2 billion that EduJobs is funneling to California, also might want to consider the recent Pepperdine study of 52 California school districts. This study reported that spending rose 21.9 percent from 2003–04 to 2008–09, outpacing both state income growth and inflation. On a per-pupil basis, spending actually jumped 25.8 percent over that period, while classroom spending as a share of total outlays declined from 59 percent to 57.8 percent. Where did the money go? Pay rose by 28 percent for certificated supervisors and administrators and by 44 percent for classified supervisors and administrators.

I’ve written before that inflation-adjusted, per-pupil spending has been climbing in Georgia as well, with little to show for it in the way of performance improvements. The sad thing is that too few teachers seem to have realized that their bosses are their biggest enemies.

Majestic new campuses, bloated administrative payrolls — when school systems have cut out this sort of waste, we’ll talk about whether more money would truly serve our students well.

103 comments Add your comment

Richard

August 23rd, 2010
12:10 pm

Kyle,

If you want to get rid of waste in public education, why not first call for eliminating spending on high school athletics? How many millions of dollars there?

Linda

August 23rd, 2010
12:12 pm

Schools without teachers…

Belinda

August 23rd, 2010
12:17 pm

Unbelieveable. And we wonder why our economy and education system is a mess? Teachers do need to look at things more closely.

godless heathen

August 23rd, 2010
12:22 pm

Back in the day, a high school could be built on a city block. Now they require over 40 acres, some much more. And we see an improved outcome. Consider not only the construction cost, but the cost of maintenance. Oh well, it’s government spend OPM.

godless heathen

August 23rd, 2010
12:23 pm

I meant to say “no improved outcome.”

Jefferson

August 23rd, 2010
12:23 pm

Not much different that when your city council, board of education, or county commissioners eat out at a fancy resteraunt and the tab comes to $1500, they just lay out $300 for the tip.

Question Authority

August 23rd, 2010
12:31 pm

And those who call for the peaceful dismantling of government are called wackos?

Governments only cause Depressions. They are never subjected to the misery. Their wasteful spending goes on and on. Funny how easy it is for some to spend other people’s money.

The answer of course is to end all government involvement in education and let parents be responsible for their childrens’ education along with the assistance of anyone who is interested in assisting financially or otherwise through a voluntary manner.

Accountability only happens when you control the purse strings.

Brian

August 23rd, 2010
12:33 pm

You are so right. All of that money could go towards more bombs and tanks, or maybe a bank or another AIG bailout…and there is even worthier sources besides a new state of the art school in the nation’s 2nd largest school system. And of course we know that the system was thriving over the past 30 years without this bloating. Are you kidding? At our elementary school here we regularly doled out for paper, pencils and at fundraisers raised money for TA’s and upgraded libraries. Sure there is waste in education. But up to now we always talked about how education (the administrators, the teachers, the facilities) was neglected and underfunded and underperforming. Even the last President who would have cut off his arm before he actually thought to advance anyone in a family earning less than 200k had education as priority (No kid left behind). Worry more about how to inspire and educate what we have and maybe minds will grow to get out of this morass we are in today.

Fun Guy

August 23rd, 2010
12:38 pm

Does not surprise me . Seems almost all people in California have no clue. Home of Nancy Pelosi

Mrs. Norris

August 23rd, 2010
12:39 pm

Well, the children will have fine buildings in which to teach themselves; and tax payers are once again asked to fund and subsidize bad policy. And some sneer at the Tea Party. Keep sneering. I also appreciate what you said about teachers not realizing who their real enemy is. While they are on a witch hunt for Roy Barnes because he tried to improve our educational system, the real enemy will continue to erode the system.

Ivan

August 23rd, 2010
12:51 pm

Don’t worry folks. The U.S taxpayer will “bailout” California before you know it.

DawgDad

August 23rd, 2010
1:06 pm

None of this has anything at all to do with educating kids, unless we’re paying to teach them to grift off taxpayers. Either way, it will be a cold day in [wherever] before I ever vote for another tax increase for ANYTHING.

Joe Wolf

August 23rd, 2010
1:06 pm

You do realize that the pots of money for building schools and operating them are *entirely* separate, and that by law L.A. Unified cannot use school construction money for any other purpose?

If you want to have a debate about funding priorities in education, fair enough, But please, do your homework and give your readers the full context along with your opinions. Don’t do a Fox News on them.

The Anti-Wooten

August 23rd, 2010
1:09 pm

Kyle,

It’s so rare that I agree with you that it’s worthy of note. While school building should not have the appearance of a state prison they also don’t need something with all of the architectural flourishes that are included here. The school board could have built something much more utilitarian and functionally sound for far, far less money and kept many more teachers on the payroll.

DawgDad

August 23rd, 2010
1:10 pm

Joe: Your point doesn’t even matter. Waste is waste. It’s not about educating kids, it’s about adults playing with other people’s money.

joe

August 23rd, 2010
1:13 pm

Nice pricetag for a place where gang bangers and illegals will “tag” their hang outs with their favorite colors in spray paint. The building depreciates as soon as the students step one foot into the door. Figures that anything government oriented, in this case the public school system, makes another bone head decision. Schools where I went were plain, ugly barely efficient buildings, but somehow we got by because we had good teachers and administrators. Now you have corrupt teachers unions and on the take officials running the schools into the ground…and they turn out graduates who can barely read or write. Our country is headed straight into the toilet and the liberals are the enablers for most of that.

CJ

August 23rd, 2010
1:16 pm

The hubris of the American education establishment…

Thus begins Kyle’s weekly assault on public education. As a faux-conservative columnist, he skillfully applies the following tactics from “The Demagogue’s Handbook”:

1. Tactic 143: Treat the exception as the rule.
2. Tactic 17: Maximize the negative; ignore the positive.
3. Tactic 94: Whether or not applicable, use explosive, focus-group tested words (e.g., bailout).
4. Tactic 101: Offer a non-sequitor, consistent with your ideology, as the solution.

I agree that any money spent on unnecessary construction, administrators, and benefits are wasteful. Who doesn’t? But if the implication here is that there aren’t private educators who blow their wads on unnecessary architecture and excessive administrative salaries and benefits, thereby leading to ridiculously high tuitions not justified by objective student outcomes, then the evidence is lacking.

Instead of talking about whether more money would serve our students well, as Kyle proposes, shouldn’t we be talking about how to make sure that the money is properly spent in the first place (a conversation we should have whether taxpayer money is applied to public or private education)—upgrading dilapidated facilities, recruiting and hiring the best educators, hiring more teachers to achieve smaller class sizes?

CJ

August 23rd, 2010
1:17 pm

Kyle,

My submission isn’t surviving the automated moderator for some reason (I’ve tried twice). If possible, would you take a look and push it through?

Sorry about the trouble.

Road Scholar

August 23rd, 2010
1:17 pm

Heck , how many trailers will all that money buy here in Georgia?

jd

August 23rd, 2010
1:18 pm

Hmmm… a school or a presidential library *George H.W. Bush Library cost about $500 million — or 7 days of bonuses for Goldman Sachs, or 4 F-35 fighters… so many choices to spend our money!

Jason T

August 23rd, 2010
1:25 pm

Ahhhhhh…Government at it’s finest! California, the land of fruit and nuts.

CJ

August 23rd, 2010
1:33 pm

Kyle Wingfield

August 23rd, 2010
1:41 pm

Joe Wolf: But where do both pots of money come from? Taxpayers. The pot for construction may have grown at the other pot’s expense, but taxpayers still have only so much money they can pay out. And ironically, the reason those pots are divided that way — at least in Georgia with SPLOSTs; I don’t know all the ins and outs of L.A. school-funding policy — is because the public didn’t trust school officials to spend construction money appropriately.

CJ, I think you’re so eager to criticize me that you don’t realize you’re agreeing with me…”talking about how to make sure that the money is properly spent in the first place” is exactly what I’ve proposed.

Aquagirl

August 23rd, 2010
1:46 pm

Developers are always first at the trough. Thank goodness we don’t have to worry about such things in Georgia! Oh, um, wait…..

wallbanger

August 23rd, 2010
1:47 pm

I am just guessing that the construction trades unions in Southern California are louder/stronger than the teacher’s unions. Sounds to me like a lot of padding went on here. No doubt graft was involved–just like the construction at Hartsfield. Hard to find honest people anymore. I got a great education–all 12 years in a 3 story red brick schoolhouse–nothing fancy. Dedicated teachers, and kids who knew if they acted out in school they would be killed when they got home.

Charles

August 23rd, 2010
1:57 pm

Now that we’ve all trashed APS – and rightfully so – it would be great if someone – anyone – on the editorial board would report in a meaningful way on the recent ACT and SAT scores in Georgia. The news is good – just hasn’t been reported.

Other than the simple sound bite “Ga schools rank at the bottom” here is ‘the rest of the story’.

Black student scores above the national average when compared to black students nationwide.

Hispanic student scores above the national average when compared to Hispanic students nationwide.

And finally, White student scores above the national average when compared to white students nationwide.

You would also be surprised when you look at the top 10% of students in private schools compared to the top 10% of students in public schools.

This type of news would take a little more digging than the bad news – but it would speak volumes about why Georgia is a great place for a business to locate…

Retired administrator for public schools – where ALL students can attend…

CJ

August 23rd, 2010
1:57 pm

Maybe so, Kyle. But again, you seem to be implying that such waste is the rule and not the exception. That federal education money isn’t saving teachers jobs, properly upgrading poorly maintained school buildings, or preventing class sizes from growing larger than they otherwise would—at all. That if some money on a project is wasted, which happens in nearly every significant public or private endeavor, then it’s not worth doing.

jd

August 23rd, 2010
2:01 pm

Sounds like Kyle supports Roy Barnes’ Reform plan — give the school systems 4 designs to choose from if they want state bonded construction monies — just think how many buildings could have gone up with the money spent on Milton High School (that be in North Fulton, errr, Milton County)

StJ

August 23rd, 2010
2:01 pm

Did ol’ Nancy have a hand in the construction of that school? Maybe she can move her office there and save us taxpayers $18,000 a month.

Rafe Hollister

August 23rd, 2010
2:21 pm

Limosine Liberals have to come from somewhere!!

It is typical liberal philosophy, to brainwash the kids into believing Global warming, income redistribution, carbon footprints, etc, but do not make them suffer, because of any of those beliefs. Live large and spare no expense, but preach about sacrifice and dedication to the environment and those in society who are suffering.

DEWSTARPATH

August 23rd, 2010
2:24 pm

Fun Guy – August 23rd, 2010 – 12:38 pm

“Seems almost all people in California have no clue. Home of Nancy Pelosi”

– All people in a state have no clue because of one person.
What happened to common sense ?

Horrible Horace

August 23rd, 2010
2:28 pm

2010 Robert F. Kennedy Community School (cost-578 million dollars/multiple schools)”

The name of the above mentioned school should be changed. Sirhan Sirhan Community School would be more fitting. The kennedys were a group of drunken frat boys and crooks.

Rafe Hollister

August 23rd, 2010
2:29 pm

CJ:

That if some money on a project is wasted, which happens in nearly every significant public or private endeavor, then it’s not worth doing.

It should read, Since most Gov projects contain a great deal of money wasted needlessly, it would be better to give the money directly to those who you are trying to help and leave the Gov out of the project.

Kind of like, if the Gov had just split the 1 Trillion dollar Stimulus bill among the taxpayers in the form of a tax cut, then the economy would be booming, with people buying TV’s, stereos, tires, cars, furniture, etc.

Skip

August 23rd, 2010
2:39 pm

You had to go all the way to California to find waste?

Linda

August 23rd, 2010
2:40 pm

Statement from the LA Unified School District, “The construction of these schools was funded by bond money the voters approved to build new schools to relieve SEROUS overcrowding in schools…By law, these funds could not be used to fund teacher salaries or to back fill budget shortfalls currently being experienced by the District…& ITS meets the Board goal of relieving overcrowding in all our schools.”

This is their spelling & words, not mine.

Linda

August 23rd, 2010
2:44 pm

The LAUSD spent $232 M & $377 M on 2 other schools in the last 3 yrs. They’ve laid off 3000 teachers in the last 2 yrs. They have a $640 M budget deficit, some of the lowest performing schools in the country & a 27% drop-out rate.

No More Progressives!

August 23rd, 2010
2:57 pm

Linda

August 23rd, 2010
2:44 pm
The LAUSD spent $232 M & $377 M on 2 other schools in the last 3 yrs. They’ve laid off 3000 teachers in the last 2 yrs. They have a $640 M budget deficit, some of the lowest performing schools in the country & a 27% drop-out rate.

Excellent point, Linda.

I wonder how LA compares with Detroit, New Orleans or Chicago, more bastions of liberal management philosophy? What is Atlanta’s drop-out rate?

Not So Casual Observer

August 23rd, 2010
3:01 pm

CJ,

Your comments are nothing more than the standard Liberal clap-trap. You, and those with whom you agree, are a scourge on the United States.

Your “Handbook” entires at 1:16pm are nothing more than the Socialist Guide to Destruction of the United States. Democrats and Liberals have been demoninzing the Right as anti-education, anti-Social Security and anti-minorities for the last 50+ years and yet when the Libs have the Congress and the WH all they accomplish is the fiancial destruction of the economy and a crushing blow to the hopes and dreams of those born since 1990. Liberals have destryed education, Social Security and virtually everything they touch – including the American family.

There are “lies” and there are “damn lies” and Liberals such as CJ are accomplished at both when pandering to an uneducated, underpriviledged group of voters whom the Liberals themselves have created by their social policies.

We can only “hope” the American public has awakened to the charade that has become the Democrat party and Liberalism.

I have asked before and I will try again, “Can anyone find any redeeming value in a Liberal”? So far there has been nothing.

Not So Casual Observer

August 23rd, 2010
3:07 pm

CJ @ 1:57,

One more thing – WASTE IS THE RULE rather than the exception anytime government is involved.

The current administration is so busy lining the pockets of their supporters there will likely be nothing remaining regardless of a rise in tax rates.

Republicans appear as pikers when compared to this band of theives in Congress and the White House.

CJ

August 23rd, 2010
3:10 pm

NSCO: “Democrats and Liberals have been demonizing the Right as anti-education, anti-Social Security and anti-minorities for the last 50+ years…

It’s not demonizing if it’s true; it’s just reporting.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the fact-free, substance-free rant. Thanks for the laugh.

retired early

August 23rd, 2010
3:12 pm

One very obvious solution to school funding…get out of the state/county approach in educational administration. The “other” state employee’s admin is located in Atlanta. The schools have what..150+ separate school bd of eds, personal depts etc. Centralize control. Here in Chatham co, the admin represents nearly half the total budget… that’s crazy; but then, everyone wants that LOCAL CONTROL, even though it has resulted in such diverse performance outcomes… mostly of which are bad.

Linda

August 23rd, 2010
3:22 pm

No More @ 2:57, Dropping out of school is not always as bad as social promotion. We sat alphabetically in high school. For yrs. I sat next to a girl in many classes & observed the 30s, 40s & 50s she earned on most of her papers. She followed me in the graduation line.
The next time I saw her, she told me that she had graduated from a college in South Georgia & was a teacher.
Wonder what school district(s) she taught in. Wonder what our school district taught her.

DawgDad

August 23rd, 2010
3:34 pm

“get out of the state/county approach in educational administration. . .Centralize control.”

Oh my gosh, the ultimate in wrong-headed liberal proposals. Just for fun here, compare Cherokee County schools to APS and tell me why anyone in Cherokee or any other outlying county would EVER be in favor of central control? PLEASE do NOT vote. We don’t need more nuts in the voting booths.

If Chatham County has a problem managing their school budget then (1) the Chatham County voters need to fix it, or (2) if there is corruption the criminality needs to be investigated and prosecuted. I believe in accountability at the ballot box; Atlanta and Chatham get what they are willing to accept; Cherokee voters had a problem Board member about 10 years ago who got the District decertified and swiftly took care of the issue. The voters in Atlanta collectively [not individually] don’t care about educating their kids to the same extent the Cherokee voters do. Simple to understand. If we centralize control the Beverly Halls of the world will destroy us, too.

josef nix

August 23rd, 2010
3:39 pm

KYLE

” The sad thing is that too few teachers seem to have realized that their bosses are their biggest enemies.”

Well, I certainly resr my case that no one knows the first thing about what is going on in the schools. You obviously haven’t been hanging around the teachers’ lounge at that 26 minute lunch.

Last Word

August 23rd, 2010
3:53 pm

These commercial construction contracts were all entered into in the heady, revenue rich days of the middle of the decade.

Governments across the country all spent like drunken sailors during this period.
And we wonder why we’re broke now that we’ve had a revenue correction? ! !

Last Word

August 23rd, 2010
3:57 pm

Case in point:

The GA DOT!

Jefferson

August 23rd, 2010
4:11 pm

Don’t call grease and kickbacks waste.

DEWSTARPATH

August 23rd, 2010
4:43 pm

Kyle: “Some of the most expensive schools are found
in low-performing districts — New York City has a $235 million
campus; New Brunswick, N.J., opened a $185 million
high school in January.”

– I grew up in New Bruswick (back in the late 70’s). It’s one of the more affluent
areas of Jersey, probably because it’s a college town. As far as being a “low-
performing district” – the NJ DOE in 1975 implemented the District Factor Group
(DFG) system to make statewide assessments of school districts, similar to the
CRCT system in Georgia.
According to Wiki, the NJ system does not “have a primary or significant
influence in the school funding formula beyond legal requirements associated with
parity aid provided to Abbott districts” (the result of a judgement for the Education
Law Center in 1985, Abbott v. Burke, involving an assertion that primary
and secondary education in poor communities was substandard.).
The cost of a new school, therefore, would be an issue of community standards,
e.g. property values, instead of academic standards – not suggesting that represents
what the priorities should be. Students and their education should ALWAYS take
precedence over construction projects.

Chris C.

August 23rd, 2010
4:54 pm

Administrators in general love big, expensive construction projects and this case is no exception. Many of those projects are financed via bonds paid for either at the city or state level and so require little immediate cash upfront, just another chip away at the credit rating for the sponsoring government. Administrators also get to emblazon their names on these monuments to their own egos and use them to sound like they’re actually getting things done when in reality, as Kyle points out, they’re laying off teachers (and usually it’s the young, competent, enthusiastic teachers who get the axe, not the lazy, incompetent, union-controlled deadwood).

The immediate solution is simple: get rid of 50% of administrators (whose numbers have been exploding over the past few decades compared to actual teachers- I guarantee you there won’t be any dropoff in quality/performance in schools by firing administrators) and make the ones who are left dependent on one-year renewable contracts. The contracts should be renewed only after public feedback and hearings every year to review their performance. Outrages like this school wouldn’t even be caught unless people in the media decide to inform their audiences of the cost, so it’s up to parents and taxpayers in general need to exercise far more oversight of school budgets and speak out before these egoistic monstrosities ever get off the ground.

shannon

August 23rd, 2010
5:04 pm

So our school district also in California tells us that California is broke so we have to pay 300.00 for our children to ride the school bus. However they can spend 578 freakin million dollars to build a damn school in LA. They should have put that damn money back into the school system!!!!!!!!