Different Day, Same Problems for LAUSD
By Assemblyman Cameron Smyth
Last Tuesday, the Los Angeles Unified School Board voted in favor of a series of new reform measures. These measures seem to be nothing more than empty rhetoric that will do nothing to get to the heart of the real problem, LAUSD itself. One should not forget that it was just the previous week when more examples of incompetence were brought to light.
In what seems to be a never ending barrage of blunders by LAUSD, recent events have shed light on even more acts of malfeasance by the district. In a recently released audit by the State Controllers office it was revealed that LAUSD improperly claimed, and received, more than $45 million of taxpayers’ money as part of the Pupil Promotion and Retention Program. The audit found that this money was received from unjustified claims and when the Controller’s Office initiated the audit in May 2006, the district did not even have the claims on file due to “inadvertent oversight”. The Controller summed this up by stating that the school district was basically getting an interest-free loan from the California taxpayers. This is simply unacceptable!
Unfortunately, the fiscal irresponsibility does not stop there.
Recent calculations have shown that when the new Vista Hermosa High School (more commonly known as the Belmont Learning Complex) opens in 2008, the total cost for completing the project will have exceeded $400 million. This project was originally estimated to cost $45 million dollars and was supposed to be completed nine years ago. I don’t claim to be an expert in construction, but when LAUSD finishes a $45 million project almost a decade late and $395 million dollars over budget, to me, that exemplifies the egregious lack of leadership, management and accountability on their part.
Yet another troubling statistic is the amount of unfunded pension liability that the LAUSD has amassed. According to the Legislative Analyst Office’s 2005-06 report, LAUSD estimates its current "actuarial liability" for retiree health benefits at $5 billion. As a result of the board’s inaction since the report was issued, that number has certainly increased, and according to some analysts it may have even doubled. To cover this liability, the district would need to place that amount in an interest-bearing account today in order to pay for these benefits over time. To give you an example of the amount of money we are talking about, the LAO states that the $5 billion is equivalent to 80% of their annual operating budget!
I have been saying for far too long that the time has come to do something about this problem. Even with the new “reform minded” members LAUSD is simply too big and too bureaucratic. How many more mistakes need to be made before action is taken?I introduced legislation earlier this year which would break up the district into smaller, more manageable districts of no more than 50 thousand students per district. My bill would require the establishment of a school district reorganization committee consisting of the following: the mayor of each city having more than 10,000 pupils in LAUSD’s existing boundaries, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, a Professor of Education from a California University selected by the mayors and the Superintendent, and various other members selected by the committee. Studies have consistently shown that students in smaller districts perform better. There will be a greater level of accountability and improved local control, which is clearly lacking in the present District. Thus, it will make it much easier for school board members to clearly communicate with, and be responsive to parents and members of the community.
When you combine these fiscal blunders with the districts continual inability to provide the students the best opportunity to learn and succeed, it is clear drastic action must be taken. Simply passing some repacked reform measures does nothing to solve the problems of the district. We cannot sit by idly while an entire generation of students suffers. We owe it to them to step up and take action.
Assemblyman Cameron Smyth is a Republican who represents the 38th Assembly District, which includes Los Angeles, Santa Clarita, Simi Valley and Glendale.