Saturday, September 4, 2010

From way down the rabbit hole > Broke—and Building the Most Expensive School in U.S. History

Benches that talk, a Cocoanut Grove auditorium, and a marble slab engraved with quotes from Ted Kennedy.

By Allysia Finley at the WSJ

image At $578 million—or about $140,000 per student—the 24-acre Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex in mid-Wilshire is the most expensive school ever constructed in U.S. history. To put the price in context, this city's Staples sports and entertainment center cost $375 million. To put it in a more important context, the school district is currently running a $640 million deficit and has had to lay off 3,000 teachers in the last two years. It also has one of the lowest graduation rates in the country and some of the worst test scores.

The K-12 complex isn't merely an overwrought paean to the nation's most celebrated liberal political family. It's a jarring reminder that money doesn't guarantee success—though it certainly beautifies failure…

I asked Mr. Rubin (consultant for the district's bond oversight committee) whether some of the school's grandiose features—like florid murals of Robert F. Kennedy—were worth the cost. "Did we have to do that? Hell no. But there's no accounting for taste," he responded… 

imageMr. Rubin admits that the Roybal Center project was "a tremendous screw-up" that "should have been studied closer beforehand." The project was abandoned for several years, only to be recommenced when community activists demanded that the school be built at whatever cost necessary in order to show respect for the neighborhood's Latino children, many of whom were attending an overcrowded Belmont High School.

Read it all…