Tuesday, October 20, 2009


by Howard Blume | L.A. Times

October 19, 2009 |  7:44 pm - Dominic Shambra, a consummate school-district insider who sacrificed a distinguished career to push through what became the nation's most notorious high school construction project, died Monday at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena. He had been suffering from congestive heart failure and other ailments.

After a well-regarded career as a teacher and principal, he took on increasingly challenging roles in the Los Angeles Unified School District bureaucracy. In the early 1980s, he became the architect behind the unpopular closing of about two dozen schools because of declining enrollment in the west San Fernando Valley, the Westside and Westchester. He also was a strategist behind early attempts to pass school bond measures when schools in some parts of the district were bursting past their capacity.

"He was very smart, strategic in terms of what had to be done," said retired assistant Supt. Santiago Jackson. "He was also a lot of fun, a bigger-than-life kind of person."

In the late 1980s, Shambra led a school-district team that tried to outmaneuver developer Donald Trump when he and the district were battling to control the site of the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard. He and district staff fought Trump to a draw—nothing would happen on that land for years. But schools have just this fall opened on that site.

In his most controversial role, Shambra spearheaded the development of the Belmont Learning Complex, which became the nation's most expensive and notorious high school construction project.

In 2000, an anti-Belmont school board canceled the project, citing environmental hazards. But Shambra, by then retired, never gave up, working behind the scenes to argue why the school should be completed. In the end it was, thanks to the intervention of former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, then LAUSD superintendent, who agreed with Shambra's assessment that the school was needed and could be completed and operated safely.

A full obituary will follow in Wednesday's print edition.

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