School Climate & Safety

L.A. Building Program Faces Possible $2.5 Billion Shortfall

By Lesli A. Maxwell — October 30, 2006 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Managers of the Los Angeles school district’s massive program to build 160 new schools and expand and repair hundreds of existing campuses are forecasting a possible funding shortfall as high as $2.5 billion, just as the multiyear project approaches its halfway point.

Escalating construction costs, along with a steady decline in enrollment that means a loss of state aid, could drive the price tag for the entire building program beyond its $19.2 billion budget, said Guy Mehula, the chief facilities executive for the Los Angeles Unified School District. The facilities project is the largest ever undertaken by a U.S. public school system.

“We have seen bid increases go up as much as 167 percent,” Mr. Mehula said. “There is insufficient capacity in the contractor market in Southern California, and that is really driving costs up.”

See Also

Los Angeles voters have approved four bond measures, totaling $12.5 billion since 1997, to build new schools and repair old ones in the overcrowded district, which has had to rely on year-round scheduling for about half its 800 schools. Matching funds from the state make up the balance of the construction project’s budget and are based on a formula that is tied to student enrollment.

“So as the price goes up, the state formula only gives us a per-pupil grant, so all of a sudden, instead of getting half a new school’s costs covered by the matching funds, it will be more like 28 percent,” Mr. Mehula said.

Enrollment has dropped for the last three years, Mr. Mehula said, with this year’s official count expected to be about 708,000 students, compared with 747,000 in 2003-04. That’s 4,000 fewer students than had been projected, he said, and about 19,000 fewer than last school year. Rising housing costs in the Los Angeles area have driven many families with children outside the school district’s boundaries in recent years, he said.

A Warning

Superintendent Roy Romer, who will soon retire after six years, is widely credited with shepherding the school construction boom in Los Angeles Unified. He was the one who delivered the news late last month of a possible shortfall to the citizens’ committee that oversees the building program.

Mr. Romer offered strategies for minimizing the shortfall, including using other bond money not yet earmarked to build up a reserve, and pushing California legislators to change the state formula used to determine matching funds.

The superintendent told the bond oversight committee that scaling back the program should not be a consideration.

His warning comes just before a new superintendent, retired U.S. Navy Vice Adm. David L. Brewer III, takes over, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa prepares to assume a large role in running the sprawling school district.

Since 2000, the district has built and opened 65 new schools; 12 are currently under construction, and 29 projects will be put out for construction bids over the next several months, said Mr. Mehula.

By 2012, the completed building campaign will have added 170,000 additional seats.

“The goal is to get every student back to a traditional, two-semester calendar and back to a school in their neighborhood,” Mr. Mehula said.

Still, roughly 200,000 students will attend school in portable classroom buildings even when the project is complete, he said. Some middle schools will still have as many as 2,500 students, he said, while some high schools will remain as large as 3,000 students, though many are designed to house small learning communities.

A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 2006 edition of Education Week as L.A. Building Program Faces Possible $2.5 Billion Shortfall


Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Personalized Learning Webinar
No Time to Waste: Individualized Instruction Will Drive Change
Targeted support and intervention can boost student achievement. Join us to explore tutoring’s role in accelerating the turnaround. 
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools
Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Social-Emotional Learning: Making It Meaningful
Join us for this event with educators and experts on the damage the pandemic did to academic and social and emotional well-being.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Q&A How a Student's Push to End Paddling in Schools Became a Yearslong Civics Lesson
A student advocate pushed to end corporal punishment in his state—and gained a passion for civic involvement in the process.
7 min read
Image of a paddle.
School Climate & Safety ‘Their Vote Matters’: Schools Provide Training to Students on Working the Polls
“We just want to make sure that our youth ... know that they’re important, their vote matters, their vote counts, they can get involved."
Jenny Roberts, The Morning Call
4 min read
Allen student Yovian Torres Gomez makes notes on his packet during a poll worker training Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, at Allen High School. Allen students will be working as clerks, handing out paper ballots and directing them where to go, when voting concludes Tuesday in the general election. Some will also be translating for voters.
Allen student Yovian Torres Gomez makes notes on his packet during a poll worker training Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, at Allen High School. Allen students will be working as clerks, handing out paper ballots and directing them where to go, when voting concludes Tuesday in the general election. Some will also be translating for voters.
Amy Shortell/The Morning Call via TNS
School Climate & Safety A Parkland Dad Pleads for Action on School Safety
A father whose daughter was killed in the 2018 mass shooting spoke at a summit the day after the gunman was sentenced.
3 min read
A women in a black t-shirt lifts small painted stones out of a cardboard box, placing them on the ground at a memorial covered in flowers in front of a large white masonry sign that says "Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School."
Suzanne Devine Clark, an elementary school art teacher, places painted stones at a memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2019, one year after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
School Climate & Safety A School Safety Challenge: Keeping Crowds Secure Under the Glare of Friday Night Lights
Districts aim to keep students and spectators safe during sporting events, which draw large crowds to a less predictable environment.
5 min read
A police officer stands between rows of caution tape outside of a white high school football stadium that is brightly lit against the night sky.
A Tulsa Police officer films the area outside of the McLain High School football stadium in Tulsa, Okla., after a shooting during a Sept. 30 football game.
Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP