Daily Breeze Editorial | http://bit.ly/f7GYHV
24 November 2010 - Something is rotten in facilities. With apologies to William Shakespeare, it's the perfect way to sum up the concerns about the LAUSD department charged with spending more than $20 billion of our tax dollars to build new schools and upgrade the old ones.
And it's time that the Inspector General's Office stepped in to undertake an official audit to either confirm those suspicions, or to put them to rest before the Los Angeles Unified School District starts ramping up to spend the next bond.
There's evidence enough that contracts in the massive building department have been mishandled, both historically and currently. But whether it's a deep systemic problem or simply a few bad apples in a crate of good ones is not clear.
Last week, the school district canceled the second contract to a subcontractor in two weeks because of concerns over how the contract was awarded. In this case, the contract, for a former LAUSD executive, was for $90,000 over two months to work on a detailed plan for the district's next round of school construction funded by the $7 billion bond voters approved in 2008. The contract amount wasn't at issue. Superintendent Ramon Cortines canceled it because the district has banned subcontractors.
The week before, Cortines cancelled another contract for the same reason, this one for $3.7 million to Consilia LLC, owned by four longtime, high-paid LAUSD consultants. This contract was uncovered by the district's Inspector General, even though facilities officials tried to hide it by attaching it to another project that did allow subcontractors. The Inspector General's Office found the contract in a review of construction department charges, which were millions of dollars more than had been authorized.
These two contracts may be small potatoes in a $20 billion construction spree, and it may even be that these contracts were vital to the next phase of building. But the cavalier manner in which they were handled suggest that irregularities continue in a department that has had problems since day one. More recently, a former facilities chief was indicted on charges that he used his district position to benefit himself financially between 2002 and 2006.
This is not to say that LAUSD should not hire contractors for facilities work. The last thing the school district needs is to increase its public employee payroll for a specialty department that ramps up and down as bond money and need allows. But considering the sheer amount of taxpayer money spent, the contracting process must be beyond suspicion. Otherwise, the operations of this crucial department will become a political football.
If for no other reason than to reassure taxpayers that their money is being spent as wisely as possible, LAUSD officials must launch a full audit of the facilities department before the next bond is spent. The public, which entrusted $20 billion of its hard-earned money to this project, deserves nothing less.
●●smf's 2¢: As a member of the LAUSD Bond Oversight Committee I wish to second the motion and call for the vote.
Some of the details and understanding of the current situation in the Facilities Services Division by the DB editorial board is sketchy and incomplete – but the audit that is needed would be made by the Inspector General …not the editorial board!
The LAUSD Inspector General reports directly to the Board of Education and serves at their pleasure (they forced the previous IG out, and the one before that) …and the current board may be part of the problem – so a whole lot of caveat emptor needs to be exercised by the public.
However – the LAUSD IG is also called upon under state law to report to the legislature on the spending of state school construction bond monies – and it is here that the IG may be able to function independently.