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Surprise: L.A. Schools Win

July 05, 2002

Amateur hour is over in the department charged with snagging state construction funds for the Los Angeles Unified School District. Two years ago, the school district scored about $34 million of the new construction funding generated by Proposition 1A, the state bond measure approved in 1998. In the next round of funding, the district expects to grab $650 million, or half of the $1.3 billion the State Allocation Board is giving local districts to help build needed schools.

Seeing is believing in a district that has a long reputation of either failing to deliver or coming through years behind schedule and millions over budget.

That was then and this is now, says Roy Romer, who just completed his second year as schools superintendent.

Romer gave the facilities funding department enough staff to handle the volume, and construction chief Kathi Littman supplied the construction expertise that was lacking when former principals and football coaches were in charge. It worked.

In the past, Los Angeles students got robbed because of administrative incompetence and an unfair formula that doled out money to school districts on a first-come, first-served basis.

Speed rather than need determined how much a school district would get from the State Allocation Board. The first district to submit a completed application won. Small suburban and rural school districts went to the head of the line because they could easily find vacant, hazard-free land that was suitable for schools. Similar land in Los Angeles long has come at a high price and often in the face of protest from tenants and homeowners who refuse to move without a fight. By the time the LAUSD would get a site, architectural plans and everything else approved, the state school construction money was gone.

A lawsuit filed two years ago by civil rights attorneys and community groups forced the State Allocation Board to put need first. That change gave the edge to the overcrowded Los Angeles district but guaranteed nothing if it missed the deadline, which it too often did.

This time around, district administrators got it right. We look forward to a time when good work by LAUSD administrators is no longer a surprise.

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