Annie Gilbertson, KPCC 89.3 | http://bit.ly/1u6nbEd
File: Christopher Cadena climbs in a hole five-feet deep, unearthing a leaking water main that feeds the fire sprinkler system at Hoover Street Elementary School. A backlog of repair requests show plumbing problems plague many campuses. Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
November 17, 05:30 AM :: Los Angeles Unified School District officials estimate another $40 billion is needed to replace roofs, upgrade plumbing and repair hundreds of aging campuses – but first they'll need the voters' blessing.
On Tuesday, the school board is scheduled to consider a $22.4 million request to address antiquated heating and cooling systems, failing walls, deteriorated pavement and broken fire alarm systems.
The request covers projects at seven schools, barely making a dent in the district's estimate of need for 13,500 buildings.
A request to sell more bonds is all but sure to find its way onto future ballots, said Roger Finstad, director of maintenance and operations for L.A. Unified.
"It's inevitable," he said. "We want our students and staff to be in buildings and on grounds that are in good condition, where the roofs don't leak and the air conditioning works."
The campaign for more funds – expected within the next decade – may face opposition from voters feeling burned by controversial and over-budget projects.
"I'm not voting for any bonds," said Monica Whalen, a parent and teacher at Franklin High School in Highland Park, a school approaching its centennial.
"They wasted the funds on the iPads. They didn't repair the problems the schools are facing," she said.
The district set aside $1.3 billion in school construction and modernization bond funds to supply every student and teacher with a tablet, education software and to upgrade campus Wi-Fi.
Meanwhile, the district is chipping away at a backlog of 50,000 repairs, be they leaks in the district's 40,200 drinking fountains or problems with its 68,000 heating and air conditioners.
KPCC reported in September the backlog included 200 fire safety concerns such as aging alarms, outdated extinguishers and leaking sprinklers.
District officials have found many of these repairs are routine maintenance and not bond fundable. Bonds are typically used to replace a roof not fix a leak.
Since 1997, voters agreed to a property tax hike to pay for $19.5 billion for school construction and improvements through several bond measures.
The district built 130 new schools to relieve overcrowding, but now it faces the opposite problem – fewer and fewer students.
A recent Moody's report outlined financial concerns stemming from declining enrollment, though the investor service still rates L.A. Unified highly (Aa2 stable).
By next spring, district officials said they'll begin planning to sell the last package of bonds that voters approved, Measure Q's $7 billion.
Finstad said the district plans to use cash from the Measure Q bond sale to reprioritize.
"We had a tremendous organization that went out and built new schools," Finstad said. "We now are having to refocus and develop skill sets to assess and upgrade our existing facilities. It's really a different task."
The district can't continue to underfund and defer needed repairs, said Mark Hovatter, chief facilities executive, in a recent memo to interim Superintendent Ramon Cortines.
"We would jeopardize student and staff safety and we would also lose the confidence of teachers principals, and other district staff as well as the public who vote for our school construction bonds. Given these facts I believe we need to carefully consider how we plan our way ahead," Hovatter said.
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That said, a decade isn’t forever.
A couple of points:
- That $40 billion in need is not a static number; because it is not being adequately addressed it increases at about $1.1 billion a year.
- Unless LAUSD spends about $2 billion a year on repairs and upgrades – a rate of spending matching the expenditure in the middle of the new school building program – we will not catch up. And the money must be spent strategically, effectively and wisely. We do not want to be shoveling the taxpayers’ hard earned cash into that hole in the photograph!
- The use of the word “strategically” was intentionally ironic., The District's “Chief Strategy Officer” is the champion of the strategy of iPads and MiSiS.
The District must improve its game, with
lessno more missteps like the iPad Fiasco and the MiSiS Crisis if it wants to pass a future bond! And some sort of funding mechanism needs to be found to fund rather than defer routine maintenance of the district’s facilities. It is always better to fix a leak than replace a roof.
The argument over bond funds vs. general funds is bogus; The taxpayer pays for both; He or she pays for the first with pocket change. The second is paid for by taking out a loan.
Just because enrollment is declining (which won’t happen forever) doesn't mean the buildings+infrastructure are getting any younger!