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Especially when you are using other people’s money.

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.

I asked Mr. Rubin 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.

Talking benches—$54,000—play a three-hour audio of the site’s history. Murals and other public art cost $1.3 million. A minipark facing a bustling Wilshire Boulevard? $4.9 million.

It’s all for the kids of course.  Here’s some more:

Even more striking is Exhibit C, the Edward Roybal Learning Center in the Westlake area, which was budgeted at $110 million until costs skyrocketed midway through construction when contractors discovered underground methane gas and a fault line. Eventual cost: $377 million.

Mr. 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.

Since we are talking about respect, might I paraphrase someone: “have you no decency sir?”

2 Responses to “There’s No Accounting for Taste”

  1. Harry says:

    A few posts you were talking of disgust, I believe.

    Would the school teach history, as opposed to Social Studies. How many graduates of this school will be able to place Columbus, Washington, and Lincoln in the correct century?

    It’s for the children.

  2. Rod says:

    Yes, in addition to history as an academic subject (not socialist studies), don’t forget English (not Language Arts).

    A high school history curriculum should include ancient history and European history (not “world cultures,” and especially not “Humanities,” which our local high school offers in place of eleventh grade English and history).

    It would not hurt to offer economics to everyone, as long as the text did not preach Keynesian theory. The best case would be to charge tuition for the economics course by the class session, so the students could decide whether it was worth the price.

    About twelve years ago, our local school board wanted to scrap a perfectly good middle school building and replace it with a building that would include wiring for computers, which were to be in every classroom. The board also had absolutely no plans for the soon-to-be-vacated old building except letting the local senior citizens center move across the street into it. Lucky for us that that board was voted out of office and was replaced by new school directors who opposed the new school. Not only has our district’s student population shrunk, but all that computer network wiring would have been obsolete. (Remember Al Gore “pulling cable” when he was vice president? Even the inventor of the Internet did not foresee how wireless networks would make that cable obsolete.) And anyway, why would middle schoolers need computers in their classrooms anyway? They should be reading books, not surfing the Internet for pornography.

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