No Vacancy 

The school district's space crunch is much worse than you know. And no one has a plan that will fix it.

Wednesday, Jun 7 2000

The Ugly Reality

Forget math and reading programs. Forget teacher accountability. Forget social promotion. The Los Angeles Unified School District faces a more basic looming catastrophe: space. The school system is about to put out a no-vacancy sign, with thousands of children waiting at the door. And the space race is all but lost.

Over the next 10 years, the already overcrowded school district is expected to grow from 711,000 students to well over 800,000. That increase will require L.A. Unified to build from scratch the equivalent of a school district larger than Long Beach Unified, which itself is the state‘s third largest.

Related Stories

  • Los Lobos Cinco de Mayo Festival

    @ The Greek Theatre
  • The Best Concerts to See in L.A. This Weekend

    Be sure to check out our constantly updated concert calendar! Friday, May 2 Mastodon CLUB NOKIA Atlanta quartet Mastodon rains down thunderous riffs that are as burly as the beards on its members' faces. Starting off as a thick sludge-metal group in 2000, the Mastodon have evolved over their decade-plus...
  • DUI Alert

    It's your traditional summer kick-off, and you've purchased eight cases of beer to celebrate. Fine. Just don't get behind the wheel. As it is, it's way too easy for cops to ensnare drunk drivers on holiday weekends. In fact, it's so easy police are even telling you pretty much exactly...
  • You Can See, and Even Taste, Teebs' Music

    In an alternate 2014, Mtendere Mandowa's creative fusion could have made him one of L.A.'s most famous young chefs. Maybe he'd sling Chambo fish and hibiscus tacos in an Arts District pop-up, or integrate Caribbean cuisine into tsukemen ramen in Little Tokyo. Had he stayed in culinary school at Cal...
  • Best Golden Age Rap Albums 41

    Hip-hop's Golden Age marks what many believe to be the genre's zenith, when crackling funk, jazz, and soul samples mixed with banging boom-bap drums and lyrics that were really about something. It was an era of rapid and remarkable innovation, both sonically and in terms of lyrics and delivery styles...

So, how many schools does LAUSD currently have under construction? None.

How many new school projects are likely to receive state funding in the next year? One, a small primary center.

And how many completed applications has the district filed requesting state funding? One, for the same primary center.

As for the district’s most acute need -- new high schools -- how many potential high school sites has the school system acquired over the past 30 years? The answer to this question used to be two. But the school system recently canceled both those projects -- the Belmont Learning Complex and a proposed high school in South Gate -- after spending some $250 million. So again the answer is zero.

When it comes to building schools, L.A. Unified has suffered from unending missteps, bad luck, state-funding inequities and a general paralysis of incomprehensible proportions. For 20 years, the school system has known that this overcrowding was approaching. And the crisis arrived, right on schedule, some 10 years ago. It‘s gotten steadily worse every year since, and the worst of all is yet to come -- despite the recent arrival of a qualified team of real estate professionals who have labored creatively and shrewdly.

Over the next five years, every high school in the LAUSD will gradually succumb to a multitrack year-round calendar -- which increases a school’s capacity by 50 percent, but trashes academic programs. And then, even with a pervasive busing plan, more than 22,000 students will need seats that currently exist nowhere. If the district happens to lower its staggering dropout rate, the challenge to find space increases accordingly. Meanwhile, district officials estimate that five years -- the same five years -- is the minimum time needed to build a high school, presuming that you have somewhere to build one.

Consider this: It has taken Long Beach Unified some 100 years to build its 60 elementary schools, 15 middle schools and seven high schools. Los Angeles will have to do better than that in just 10 years, in a dense urbanscape, where the district must compete with private developers and battle recalcitrant property owners over whatever prime space can be found. If history is any guide, the school district is going to fail. Over the last 25 years, L.A. Unified has built eight small primary centers, about a dozen elementary schools, three specialized magnet schools, one middle school and zero comprehensive high schools.

And there‘s more bad news. It would take at least $6 billion to get all students off both the buses and the district’s educationally perverted year-round schedule. Instead, L.A. will start with $900 million from the local school-bond measure passed in 1997. And while these funds could be matched, dollar for dollar, with state money, nearly all of this state money is likely to go to other school districts. As it stands now, L.A. Unified would get about 1 percent of the rapidly vanishing pot of state school-construction money -- even though the district has 12 percent of the state‘s enrollment, a third of the state’s students on year-round schedules, and one of the highest rates of enrollment growth.

Considerable fault lies with the way the state awards construction funds -- and, in desperation, L.A. Unified and activist organizations have sued over the matter. But then, too, the district‘s own construction program has been a disaster, both in terms of putting projects together and obtaining state money to pay for them. District efforts have been distinguished by a combination of ill-conceived ideas, or abandoned ones, abetted by school boards that occasionally overreach, but more often capitulated to outside political pressures, at the direct expense of students.

More recently, the facilities division has hardly existed at all, because the school board elected to clean house in the wake of the Belmont Learning Complex fiasco. Assembling the newcomers took months, and they’re still learning the territory. It didn‘t help that new Chief Operating Officer Howard Miller managed to repeat some mistakes of the past, while also authoring some innovative miscues of his own. And this chaos could be repeated; Miller, as well as certain key interim managers, could depart within months during the transition into the administration of Roy Romer, the former Colorado governor who was chosen this week to be the school district’s new superintendent.

Related Content

Now Trending

  • EDC Vegas Raver Montgomery Tsang Died From an Ecstasy Overdose

    A young man who collapsed outside Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas died from an ecstasy overdose, the Clark County Coroner's office announced today. Following the results from toxicology tests, coroner's investigators determined that 24-year-old Montgomery Tsang of San Leandro, California died from "acute methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) toxicity," a coroner's official told...
  • Here Are L.A.'s Top 5 Promiscuous Neighborhoods

    Which neighborhoods see the most hook-ups in Los Angeles? The app Spreadsheets, which helps singles track sexual performance, record their bedroom "achievements," log the duration of intercourse, and parse other data crucial to users in 133 countries across the globe, crunched its local user data just for L.A. Weekly. And so,...
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases Are on the Rise in California

    Some of you have been naughty. Others not so nice. And we're about half way to Christmas. The California Department of Public Health this week announced that rates for key sexually transmitted diseases went way up in 2013. Young women have some of the highest rates of STDs in the Golden...
Los Angeles Concert Tickets


  • The World Cup Celebrated And Mourned By Angelenos
    The World Cup has taken Los Angeles by storm. With viewings beginning at 9 a.m., soccer fans have congregated at some of the best bars in the city including The Village Idiot, Goal, The Parlour on Melrose, Big Wang's and more. Whether they're cheering for their native country, favorite players or mourning the USA's loss, Angelenos have paid close attention to the Cup, showing that soccer is becoming more than a fad. All photos by Daniel Kohn.
  • La Brea Tar Pits "Pit 91" Re-Opening
    Starting June 28th, The Page Museum once again proudly unveils the museum's Observation Pit, which originally opened in 1952 but has spent most of the last half century closed. Now visitors can get an up-close look at Pit 91, which is currently under excavation. The La Brea Tar Pits, home of the Page Museum, is one of the world's most famous ice age fossil locations, known for range of fossils from saber-toothed cats and mammoths to microscopic plants, seeds and insects. The new "Excavator Tour" is free with museum admission if purchased online at tarpits.org . All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Scenes from the O.J. Simpson Circus
    In the months after O.J. Simpson's arrest for the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman in the summer of 1994, the drama inside the courthouse riveted the masses. But almost as much mayhem was happening right outside the building, as well as near Simpson's Brentwood home. Dissenters and supporters alike showed up to showcase art inspired by the case, sell merchandise, and either rally for, or against, the accused football star. Here is a gallery of the madness, captured by a photojournalist who saw it all. All photos by Ted Soqui.