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County, City May Team Up for School Inspections

November 19, 2003|Daren Briscoe | Times Staff Writer

After receiving reports of unsanitary conditions in school bathrooms and cafeterias, county and city officials hope to join forces to inspect Los Angeles Unified School District facilities, but the district is arguing it would be a duplication of efforts.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to provide county health inspectors for a pilot program proposed by City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, who wants independent health and safety inspections of school facilities. The district has 11,000 buildings, 7,000 bathrooms and 600 cafeterias.

Citing research that he said confirms a direct link between achievement test scores and physical conditions at schools, Delgadillo has also pushed the Campus Safety Inspections Initiative, which along with bathroom inspections would include unannounced spot checks of earthquake and fire safety and cafeteria cleanliness.

"There are state mandates for prisons but not for schools," he said. "Felons have standards for their cafeterias, but not our children."

Michael Eugene, L.A. Unified's business operations manager, said that the district already has an aggressive inspection program.

"In the coming year we're projecting a $500-million shortfall," Eugene said to the Board of Supervisors, as the school board debated a $3.8-billion bond measure just a few blocks away. "I would be reluctant to indicate we have the financial wherewithal to pay additional costs for county inspections."

School board officials said that L.A. Unified has spent more than $20 million in the last six months on bathroom improvements and to hire 285 bathroom attendants at district high schools, and a staff of 1,300 inspectors conduct 7,000 checks of cafeterias annually.

"Unfortunately, a lot of the anecdotal information is out of date," Eugene said in response to reports of school bathrooms being locked because the district did not have the resources to keep them clean.

In January, KCBS-TV Channel 2 broadcast a report highlighting the substandard conditions at some schools, prompting county officials to research whether the county had the legal authority to enforce health and safety regulations at public school facilities.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich has pressed for county health officials to inspect schools and to shut down those with unsanitary bathrooms or cafeterias.

"If these conditions existed in faculty restrooms, you'd have a walkout, but the students are captive and they don't have a voice," he said.

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Peter Eliasberg said that Delgadillo's initiative would help plug "a huge oversight gap" regarding the conditions of L.A. Unified schools.

Three years ago, the ACLU filed a lawsuit accusing the state of California of failing to take responsibility for deteriorating school conditions across the state.

"Somebody other than the school districts has to make sure that these problems are getting fixed," Eliasberg said.

Times staff writer Jessica Garrison contributed to this report.

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