Defining Fiscal Irresponsibility Down and the $578M School

The shocking thing about the new $578 million school complex recently unveiled in Los Angeles, other than its obscene price tag, is that it was a one-day news story, and a minor one at that. There are no demonstrations; Fox News isn’t screaming about it. One education blog blandly asked, “Some view the school and its deluxe amenities as a showpiece for the community, while others view it as a waste of taxpayer money. What do you think?”

“What do you think???” WHAT DO YOU THINK???

The Robert F. Kennedy Community School is a showpiece for the community, all right: it shows that the community is run by irresponsible, incompetent officials, and that the community’s taxpayers are the human equivalent of sheep. The USA Today story quotes pathetically weak rationalizations for this fiscal monstrosity—it’s an “impressive environment for learning;” “children learn better in more pleasant surroundings.” Why don’t they just fly all the students to Maui, then—-it would probably be cheaper.

California is furloughing government workers, state governments are going broke; communities are cutting core services across the country; and the federal government, which is also broke but pretends that it isn’t, just passed legislation to deepen our yawning chasm of a deficit by sending money to the states to save the jobs of teachers, police and fire fighters. Los Angeles building a school with this price tag is like Dad coming home with a new Bentley he just couldn’t resist even though the family is about to default on the mortgage. It is beyond irresponsible, beyond incompetent, beyond stupid. Not fixing roads and bridges is irresponsible; letting the budget get out of control is incompetent; spending money on spectacle when the function is sub-par (the Los Angeles school system is as bad as any U.S. municipal system, and that’s bad) is stupid. What is a $578 million school? It is frightening proof that our governments at all levels are run by shallow and malfunctioning bureaucracies dominated by inattentive, wasteful hacks who do not accept or even understand the essential fiduciary responsibilities of their positions. They have been entrusted with the public’s hard-earned money and the welfare of their families, and they spend the money like drunken sailors and treat the public like Nero treated the Romans: just give them something neat to look at. As for the public, it has a duty to oppose and protest such conduct by its leaders, and not enough of the public is willing to extend the effort to meet that obligation.

Even though the very existence of such an outrageously expensive public school— there have been others, though this one is off the charts—at this time, with resources squeezed and families struggling, should tell us that we have a crisis in leadership and a societal emergency, it does not. Just as the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote of society “defining deviancy down,” we are defining down fiscal responsibility and competence.

I suppose there is hope. USA Today relates how Massachusetts reined in school construction costs in response to public outrage over the $197.5 million Newton North High School. Newton’s mayor was sent packing, and the state passed regulations that limited school choice to three designs costing between $49 million and $64 million. But who knows: after the Robert F. Kennedy Community School, $197.5 million looks like a bargain. Today there might not be any outrage.

Just baaing.

3 thoughts on “Defining Fiscal Irresponsibility Down and the $578M School

  1. I noticed that that the “cheap” schools that Massachusetts is “forcing” the districts to choose from are in the $50-65 million price range. For some perspective, Dow Labs at the University of Michigan is a 400,000 square foot research and instructional facility that was built for $60 million less than 20 years ago (and the NMR, X-ray crystallography, and specialized ventilation equipment was at least $10 million of that).

    I am about to go let my school district have it. The class size is up, many of the classes don’t have books, but they redid the football field this summer and the superintendent got a nice raise! We all have to have priorities. I need to find a few more furious people to go with me to the PTA meeting.

    • Good point, and that’s the “defining down” phenomenon too. $48 mil. only seems reasonable in comparison to 197 mil. Call me a an old fogey, but I would take a good teacher and a good book in a shack over a union-protected hack in a Taj Mahal school any time.

  2. I think we all need to realize who we’re trying to impress. When our civilization is buried beneath the sand, only the structures we erect will remain. I think the goal is to impress the archaeologists who dig up our buildings and make educated observations that we were an intelligent race who put a high value on education as demonstrated by our over-sized and luxurious learning facilities.

    For $578 Million, I sure hope they’re running night classes and other community events.

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