Shangri-LA

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At the state level at least, the biggest area of wasteful spending is public education. On August 22 the AP reported a perfect illustration of such waste in the recent opening of what it calls a “Taj Mahal school” (a school costing more than $100 million to build) in LA-LA-Land. The LA Unified School District (LAUSD) has just opened the most expensive school in the country. This edifice — the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools campus — cost an astonishing $578 million. Million! It is a complex designed to house 4,200 K-12 students in style. It has murals (which will no doubt be covered in graffiti ere long — they should have just put up blank canvases), a large public park, a huge swimming pool, and a massive marble monument devoted to Robert Kennedy (the school was constructed on the site of the old Ambassador Hotel, where Kennedy was assassinated in 1968). This isn’t the only Taj Mahal school that LAUSD has built. Last year it opened the Visual and Performing Arts High School, which cost $232 million, and the year before it opened the $377 million Edward Roybal learning center (named after another Democratic politician). The Roybal school is a real pip. The district cleared the land for the 2,400-student building, only to discover that it was building the school on an earthquake fault, over a methane gas field, and on polluted soil. It took 20 years to finish the place, which includes a dance studio with cushioned maple floors, a ten-acre park, a massive kitchen with a restaurantquality pizza oven, and teacher “planning rooms” between the classrooms. A big reason for the insanely high prices for such massive school boondoggles is the fact that the projects had to employ unionized labor. How can the LAUSD afford to open these lavish new schools? I mean, it is one of the most incompetent bureaucracies in the world, with an aggregate 50% student dropout rate and a $640 million budget deficit. It laid off 3,000 teachers in the last two years alone. The answer is simple. Some time back, the idiot voters of the state approved a $20 billion bond issue to build schools, so the education pigs have a big trough to feed in. To be fair, Taj Mahal schools are not found only in LALA-Land. Dozens of such schools have been built nationwide, with every imaginable amenity (atriums, food courts, auditoriums with orchestra pits, and so on). For example, Newton North High School in Massachusetts cost nearly $198 million. But it figures that the record would be set by the LAUSD, a nearly bankrupt school district, in a nearly bankrupt city, in a nearly bankrupt state.

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