New K-12 school in Los Angeles costs taxpayers $578 million UPDATED!

There’s been an ongoing budget crisis in Los Angeles this year. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was at one point threatening to shut city services down two days a week to make ends meet. Despite this, it does not appear that the city has been cutting back:

Next month’s opening of the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools will be auspicious for a reason other than its both storied and infamous history as the former Ambassador Hotel, where the Democratic presidential contender was assassinated in 1968. With an eye-popping price tag of $578 million, it will mark the inauguration of the nation’s most expensive public school ever.

The K-12 complex to house 4,200 students has raised eyebrows across the country as the creme de la creme of “Taj Mahal” schools, $100 million-plus campuses boasting both architectural panache and deluxe amenities.

“There’s no more of the old, windowless cinderblock schools of the ’70s where kids felt, ‘Oh, back to jail,’” said Joe Agron, editor-in-chief of American School & University, a school construction journal. “Districts want a showpiece for the community, a really impressive environment for learning.”

Just for purposes of comparison, the new Major League Baseball stadium in Washington, D.C., cost $611 million to build.

And bear in mind that they are building this school in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) which has serious problems that have been largely unaddressed. Earlier this year, L.A. weekly reported that in the last decade “officials spent $3.5 million trying to fire just seven of the district’s 33,000 teachers for poor classroom performance — and only four were fired, during legal struggles that wore on, on average, for five years each.” The Los Angeles Times also reported in July that one in three high school students in the district drops out — and the LAUSD has the second worst high school graduation rate in the country. Of the 39 worst schools in California, LAUSD has 23 of them.

But I’m sure blowing $578 million on a single school is going to fix all this, right?

Oh, and one parting detail, since we’re discussing Los Angeles blowing money on public facilities. The city just spent $74 million completing a state-of-the-art prison, but because the city can’t afford to hire any jailers, it’s been sitting empty.

UPDATE — Education blogger Joanne Jacobs notes that the all the money L.A. has been spending on schools seems to have little correlation with better outcomes. In 2008, the city opened the $377 million Edward R. Roybal Learning Center. Here’s how that worked out:

A heavily Hispanic school, Roybal earned a 1 out of 10 on the Academic Performance Index compared to all California high schools, a 3 out of 10 compared to demographically similar schools.

Talk about misplaced priorities.

UPDATE II – Matt Welch at Reason writes:

All of these things are terrible, perhaps even criminal, but here’s something as infuriating as it is almost totally undercovered in the media: The LAUSD, during this the biggest public works project west of The Big Dig, has bulldozed literally thousands of homes and businesses that stood in its way. They have been razing entire neighborhoods in order to educate them, even as enrollment numbers in the public school system have been falling through the floor.

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