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Money's There, Repairs Aren't

Prop. BB program for schools is charging forward at snail's pace

December 07, 1997

The Proposition BB school bond money trickles from the headquarters of the Los Angeles Unified School District while nimble students and staff members dodge the rain pouring through leaky roofs. Weary students still ride school buses from their overcrowded neighborhood schools to faraway campuses, while plans for new schools creep along. In the coming warm months, teachers and pupils will sweat in classrooms with no air conditioners.

Steve Soboroff, chairman of the civilian oversight committee for the bond money, says in his first quarterly report that projects representing only 10% of the $2.4-billion measure are underway, eight months after the voters approved the bond measure in April. He promises, after an "arthritic" start, a speedup on repair and construction projects that will deliver relief to every campus.

School board member Victoria Castro was on target when she quizzed Soboroff about the appearance of foot-dragging and the concerns she expects voters will express at the one-year anniversary of the vote. Promises were made. They should be kept.

Soboroff says he foresees speedier progress in the next eight months. He touts new and expanded leadership in the program management team of the controversial company, 3DI/O'Brien Kreitzberg, hired by the district to stay on top of BB projects. The firm has been under fire for some questionable campaign contributions made while advising the MTA and because of the slow start at the schools.

Some delay is understandable. Approval of the nation's largest school bond measure was never a given. It had failed to capture the necessary two-thirds super majority in November, and there was no guarantee of passage in April. Given that uncertainty, school district officials dared not draw up plans that envisioned quick funding.

Some delay is also attributable to a political blunder by the majority of the school board. Shortly after the voters spoke, the board designated some of the bond measure's construction funds to build the expensive new Belmont Learning Center, a high school near downtown Los Angeles, but it acted without taking the project before the civilian oversight committee. That betrayal of the public trust led to legal action, a distraction that slowed progress.

Soboroff now believes the kinks have been worked out. Getting the work done quickly will take communication, cooperation and compromise among the oversight committee, the management firm and school district officials. Soboroff must remember that impatient pupils, parents and voters are waiting and watching.

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