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

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


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.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for
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.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Trauma-Informed Practices & the Construction of the Deep Reading Brain
Join Ryan Lee-James, Ph.D. CCC-SLP, director of the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, with Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD., Vital Village Community Engagement Network; Neena McConnico, Ph.D, LMHC, Child Witness to Violence Project; and Sondra
Content provided by Rollins Center

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 'Devious Lick' TikTok Trend Creates Chaos in Schools Nationwide
Shattered mirrors, missing soap dispensers, and broken toilets in school bathrooms have been linked to the "devious lick" challenge.
Simone Jasper, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
2 min read
At the new Rising Hill Elementary School in Kansas City, Mo., gender neutral student bathrooms have a common sink area for washing and individual, locking, toilet stalls that can be used by boys or girls. Principal Kate Place gave a tour of the facilities on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018. The school is in the North Kansas City school district.
A gender neutral student bathroom.
Keith Myers/The Kansas City Star via AP
School Climate & Safety What the Research Says A Hallmark of School Shooters: Long History of Social Rejection
New research finds that shooters in K-12 schools are more often "failed joiners" than loners.
5 min read
Butler County Sheriff Deputies stand on the scene at Madison Local Schools, in Madison Township in Butler County, Ohio, after a school shooting on Feb. 29, 2016.
Sheriff deputies were on the scene of a shooting at Madison Local Schools, in Butler County, Ohio, in 2016.
Cara Owsley/The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP
School Climate & Safety 4 Myths About Suspensions That Could Hurt Students Long Term
New longitudinal research shows that longer in- and out-of-school suspensions have severe consequences for students.
5 min read
Image of a student sitting at a desk in a school hallway.
School Climate & Safety Photos The Tense and Joyous Start to the 2021 School Year, in Photos
Students are headed back to school with the threat of the Delta variant looming. How is this playing out across the country? Take a look.