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Farewell Chair Robert García to Board of Education & Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee LAUSD

August 17, 2005
To the Honorable Members of the
Los Angeles Unified School District
Citizen’s School Bond Oversight Committee

re: Farewell

Dear Colleagues on the Oversight Committee:

I would like to thank each member of the Oversight Committee present and past for having given me the opportunity to serve the children of Los Angeles and their families and friends as Chairman of this honorable Committee for the past five years. I would also like to thank Tom Rubin, Joseph Buchman, and the present and past staff for the Committee. Finally, I would like to thank Superintendent Roy Romer, the Board of Education, and School District staff. Special thanks go to Jim McConnell and the Facilities team.

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is investing $14.4 billion to build new schools and modernize existing schools, one of the largest public work projects in history. I had the honor of signing the official voter pamphlet ballot arguments in favor of Measure K and Measure R, which together provide $7.2 billion for school construction and modernization in local bonds plus billions more in matching state and federal funds. During my past five years as Chairman, new schools were built, older schools became less crowded, fewer children were bussed out of their neighborhoods to relieve overcrowding, more schools returned to traditional calendars, older buildings were made safer, quieter, and more comfortable, and hundreds of acres of land were environmentally restored. More importantly, the future became brighter for hundreds of thousands of children in Los Angeles. And it has been done in a manner that respected the public’s demand for accountability, transparency, and social awareness.

More than $9.2 billion will be invested on 184 new schools and additions, which will add over 6,500 classrooms, over 171,000 seats, and over 450 acres of playing fields and play areas. More than 35 schools will open this year. Since 2002, the district has completed 24 new schools, 23,423 new classroom seats, and more than 10,000 repair projects. When completed in about seven years, the building program is expected to end involuntary busing for students, return all campuses to traditional, two-semester calendars, and limit enrollment at middle schools to 2,000 students.
LAUSD is the second largest school district in the United States, with over 900,000 students and over 80,000 employees at over 1,000 schools. The District serves a diverse student base, with 72% Hispanic, 12% Black, 9% White, and 6% Asian-Pacific Islanders, speaking over 100 different languages. LAUSD serves all or part of 26 cities and many unincorporated areas in Los Angeles County.

We should all be very proud of LAUSD’s jobs and contracts program, adopted at the urging of the Oversight Committee. New construction and modernization will create local jobs for local workers and stimulate the Los Angeles economy. The school construction program will create 174,000 jobs, $9 billion in wages, and $900 million in local and state taxes. The School District has targeted small businesses and local workers to ensure they receive a fair share of these benefits through programs that serve as best practice examples for other public works projects around the country. LAUSD adopted a 25% Small Business Enterprise (SBE) goal in 2003. For the 2004 fiscal year, 39% of all contract awards — $337 million — went to SBE’s, with the percentages increasing each quarter to 62% in April-June. SBE participation in Construction Management and similar contracts exceeded 40% in FY04. LAUSD has set the goal of 50% local worker participation for school construction. To achieve this goal, LAUSD provides ten-week pre-apprenticeship training, and facilitates placement in union apprenticeship training programs.

When I became Chair in 2000, relations between the Oversight Committee and LAUSD were at a low point. LAUSD had no strategic plan for school construction and modernization. The School District was opposed to oversight, and provided little information to the Committee and to the public. There was no responsibility and no accountability for getting things done on time and within budget. As a result, there was a $600 million gap between the projects promised under Prop BB, and the $2.7 billion to do that work. The Oversight Committee publicly documented that gap in January 2002.

There have been dramatic improvements in school construction and modernization at LAUSD since 2000. The following are among the most important institutional changes. LAUSD produces an annual strategic execution plan for school construction and for modernization. The Oversight Committee and the public receive monthly updates to help ensure projects are on time and within budget. A professional, experienced facilities team is responsible and accountable for getting things done on time and within budget. LAUSD generally provides the information necessary for the Committee and the public to understand construction and modernization decisions. New construction and modernization will create local jobs for local workers and stimulate the Los Angeles economy.

Those results are good. Challenges remain, however. The strategic execution plans address, according to the facilities chief, “what are you going to build, when are you going to build it, how much is it going to cost, and where are you going to get the money.” The plans do not adequately address the values at stake. They should.

What remains lacking at LAUSD is consensus on the values at stake in building schools for our children and our communities. The School Board and the Superintendent have not yet adequately articulated the values at stake for public education in general, or how school construction and modernization advance the educational values at stake.

The current measure of school construction and modernization is how many “seats” must be built. There is more to children than their butts. By measuring needs in terms of “seats,” we marginalize and ignore the broader values.

School houses and school programs should enhance academic excellence, physical fitness, and appreciation of the arts; prepare students for jobs and higher education; and prepare students to participate in a democratic society. Schools should serve as centers of their communities, with playgrounds, playing fields, and libraries open after school and on weekends.

Drop out rates of over 50% remain intolerably high. Achievement test scores are rising but still lag behind where they should be.

Los Angeles needs more school yards and parks to provide places for children to play. 87% of children in LAUSD are not physically fit, according to State Fitnessgram standards. At South Gate High School last year, 1,600 children took the test and not one passed. No one passed at 40 schools. Only 10% are fit at one-third (200/600) of our schools. As a result of the current epidemic of obesity and inactivity, this is the first generation in the history of our children that will have a lower life expectancy than their parents. Measuring how many “seats” is not the right measure if the educational goal is to improve student health and instill life-long values of physical fitness and good eating habits in our children. How many acres of playing fields would it take to provide physical education for every student every day in every school? LAUSD does not know the answer to that question, and it should. LAUSD and City Recreation and Parks should implement significant programs for the joint and community use of schools, playgrounds, and parks to make optimal use of scarce land and public resources and to serve the educational and recreational needs of the children of Los Angeles and their families and friends.

The accomplishments of the Oversight Committee and LAUSD are impressive, and there is no doubt that together with the people of Los Angeles we will overcome the challenges to provide our children the education they deserve.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Very truly yours,

Robert García