By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News | http://bit.ly/hAg48W
27 January 2011 - Thanks to a combination of sound fiscal management, construction cost savings and additional state funding, Los Angeles Unified officials announced Wednesday that they'll be able to fund $531 million worth of construction projects over the next few years.
Some board members, however, criticized how projects were to be selected for inclusion in the funding.
This will be one of the last pieces of the district's $20 billion bond construction program approved by voters in several measures beginning in 1999.
The district is not expecting to tap any new money for at least a few years, when funds from the $7 billion Measure Q bond - approved in November 2008 - become available.
Approved by the school board by a 5-2 vote this week, the latest construction plan will pay for $142 million in projects, including a series of solar panel installations, that district officials had previously intended to pay for by taking out new loans.
The bond money will also be used to improve school cafeterias, build new early education centers, remove portable classrooms and even build a new $32 million high school which is also expected to create some 10,000 local jobs, district officials said.
Some board members, however, questioned how some projects were selected and others ignored because the district has put hundreds of bond-funded construction projects on hold over the years because of rising construction costs.
"I just cannot support spending money on things we don't need," said board member Yolie Flores during the Tuesday school board meeting.
Flores voted no on the spending plan along with board member Marguerite LaMotte.
Flores took issue with Central High School #12, which will be built near downtown Los Angeles and serve 500 students.
District reports have said this area already has a surplus of high school seats and does not need another school.
Board member Tamar Galatzan also questioned why some schools were getting $8 million upgrades to cafeteria areas.
In some cases those upgrades included the building of a new multipurpose room, playground or two-story addition of classroom space.
Galatzan said while those additions have been expedited under this new bond funding plan, there are still dozens of schools in the San Fernando Valley that still have no air conditioning in at least one of their classrooms.
"I am still unclear on how projects ended up on a list and how others got bumped," Galatzan said.
"This feels like whoever got there first got their project in there," she added.
Explaining the prioritization process, LAUSD Chief Facilities Executive James Sohn said his office adheres to bond language and to priorities set by the school board.
"The question for me is not what we haven't done, but what we have done and why," Sohn said.
LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines also stressed that all of the projects would benefit students.
"This plan will allow us to invest $531 million into our schools to create learning environments that help motivate our children, our teachers and our communities," Cortines said.