1. Why are our schools in such poor condition and why has it taken so long to spend the bond money to renovate them?
In November, 1993, the citizens of Beverly Hills passed a bond measure to provide $77 million for the renovation of our schools. During 1993, prior to passage of the bond measure, the board commissioned a study to determine what it would cost to provide adequate facilities at all of the school sites. Such study initially indicated that the total cost would be $107 million. The board also commissioned a study as to the amount of a bond issue that the voters of Beverly Hills would pass, and it appeared that a request for the full $107 million would fail. The board then decided to ask for only $77 million.
In other words, in 1993 and thereafter, many voters believed that the $77 million would provide adequate school facilities. Even in the 1993, this was not true. As time has passed, this has become even less true due to at least three significant factors:
The problem was compounded by the fact that the prior board made virtually no progress in terms of moving forward with any sort of plan for actually spending the money to make the schools better. From the time that the bond issue passed in November of 1993 until Barry Brucker and I were pressuring the Board in October of 1997, virtually no progress was made. Initially, the prior board hired a construction expert and put the project in his hands. Then, they fired such construction expert and eventually hired another construction expert, who they subsequently fired. The Board also hired and fired an architect (Wolf, Lang, Christopher) for Beverly Vista. Finally, in October of 1997, with Barry Brucker and I breathing down their necks and the public screaming about the lack of progress, the prior board rushed to sign a contract with our current construction adviser, PCM3. The details of the agreement were still being worked out on the day of the meeting where the board approved such agreement.
To summarize, by the time Barry and I took office in December, 1997, almost four years had passed with very little meaningful progress in deploying the bond funds.
In December, 1997, Barry Brucker and I took office. In April, 1998, Allison Okyle took office. The three of us all ran for the board largely because we were angry at the lack of progress on construction. Since being elected, we have been moving as quickly as is prudent and have made substantial progress, including the following:
-- -- repair of all of the roofs at our school sites (previously, we had significant leaks at various school sites and our buildings suffered extensive water damage which will, I fear, add millions of dollars to the cost of renovation after we start tearing off walls and discovering how bad it is). I think that it is worth noting that the failure to repair the roofs for four years was inexcusably negligent. As was demonstrated last summer, the roofs could have been repaired as a separate project and we would have avoided a whole lot of water damage.
-- -- repair of outdoor site utilities (water, sewer and electrical lines) at all of our school sites.
-- -- completion of architectural plans for all of the schools except Beverly Vista, and completion of all but the final plans for Beverly Vista.
-- -- initiation and completion of the environmental impact report for Beverly Vista (which should have been undertaken in 1996 or 1997, but which did not actually begin until 1998).
-- -- initiation and completion of a detailed report regarding safe playground design, as well as obtaining funding from the city to provide safe, stimulating playgrounds at all of our elementary schools.
The current status of the construction (as of the end of June, 1999) is as follows. We have advertised for bids for the complete renovation of the high school, Horace Mann, El Rodeo, and Hawthorne. We have already received bids for El Rodeo and Horace Mann, and expect to receive the bids for the high school and Hawthorne next week. Not unexpectedly, the bids for El Rodeo and Horace Mann have come in significantly above budget. I will not be surprised if the bids for the high school and Hawthorne (which we should receive in early July) are also above budget.
This brings us back to the fact that $77 million was never a realistic budget for providing adequate facilities for the children of Beverly Hills. If the prior board had moved more quickly, perhaps this money could have gone farther. They could have repaired the roofs and stopped the water damage in 1994. They could have completed their construction plans before the end of 1995 (after taking into account the decision in the spring of 1995 to close the majority of the Beverly Vista buildings). They could have begun construction on the schools other than Beverly Vista during the summer of 1996, and such construction could have already been completed by now. They could have done more work while construction costs were low.
Unfortunately, the prior board had several big problems that could not solve. First, because $77 million was never a realistic budget, it was impossible to come up with a "fair" allocation among the five schools. Second, in order to "stretch" the funds, they decided to try to handle all of the projects using an "in -- house" construction manager. Third, because people remembered the campaign promises from the bond issue (about using $77 million to provide adequate school facilities), it was difficult to go to the public and tell the truth, i.e. that the $77 million was not going to be nearly enough.
Finally, a solution was provided by PCM3, which was to scale the project back to just doing the basic structural, electrical, plumbing, roofing, and other work that needed to be done "inside the walls". After I was elected, I spent a lot of time questioning this plan. My inclination was, instead, to do two or three of the schools the way that they should be done, then go back to the community for funding for the other two schools. However, I was persuaded by PCM3 that so long as we did a good job on everything "inside the walls", we could always go back later and add the rest of the work that should be done, without opening the walls up again.
This solution appealed to me, for several reasons. First, I want to get the seismic retrofitting done at all of the schools as soon as possible (but it does not make sense to open up the walls to do this, then close them, then come back later and open them up again for electrical, plumbing, etc.). Second, this seemed fairer to all of the schools, as opposed to two or three schools having to wait. Third, I was concerned that we might never obtain sufficient funding to renovate the remaining two or three schools.
Again, I need to come back to the funding issue. Barry Brucker and I were elected in November, 1997. Soon after we were elected, we went to a training session for new Boardmembers. One of the things that we were very interested in was obtaining state bond funds for construction. Why should the citizens of Beverly Hills have to pay the full cost of renovating our schools, when other communities obtain state bond funds? After the morning training session, Barry went to a symposium relating to school construction (and I went to a different session, so that we could cover more ground). When both sessions were over, I went looking for Barry and found him in an animated discussion with the lecturer in his session. By the end of the day, we felt that Beverly Hills could receive state bond funds and that this should be aggressively pursued.
As soon as we returned from the training session, Barry and I both immediately asked the superintendent why we could not receive state bond funds. Eventually, we were provided with a copy of a memo that was totally unsatisfactory to us. Beginning in January, 1998, Barry and I began pestering the superintendent to look into this further, because we did not believe the memo. After several months of strident pestering, the superintendent finally got sick of it and the district spoke with a consultant who was an expert in obtaining state bond funds. The consultant confirmed what Barry and I had already surmised, which was that we could probably obtain some state bond funds. Furthermore, by that time, Allison had recently joined the board, and agreed with us that the district should pursue this.
As things stand today, it appears that we may receive as much as $16 million of state bond funds. The problem is that because of all the years that were wasted, we are far from the beginning of the line in terms of districts who have applied for state bond funds. Accordingly, it may take two or three years to actually get this money. Also, as costs continue to escalate, these dollars will buy less and less actual construction.
To summarize, this is where we stand as of the end of June, 1999. Based on the bids that we have received so far, it appears likely that we are not going to have enough money to even go forward with the PCM3 plan, without counting the state bond funds, which may take two or three years to actually get. I will be looking to our superintendent, our staff, are construction advisory commission, our architects, and PCM3 to advise us as to the best course of action. Furthermore, I am hopeful that by providing the community with the background information discussed above, the community can play a greater role than otherwise in terms of making its views and ideas known.
Depending on who you listen to, we need an additional $30 million to $50 million to provide modern, adequate facilities for our children, without any "luxuries". Years of deferred maintenance have taken a heavy toll on our facilities. For example, water leaking through neglected roofs caused continuing damage until the summer of 1998, when we finally got the roofs fixed. Also, most of our facilities are over 70 years old and most of the basic systems (HVAC, electrical, plumbing, etc.) are crumbling. We also have asbestos problems that must be abated and we are required to spend a lot of money to add elevators and ramps to comply with federal law. It now appears that the cost of fixing these basic problems will exceed our modernization budget. We do not now have the money to provide modern science labs, adequate computers in the classrooms, working lockers for all students, modern kitchen facilities, or even paint for buildings & rooms that have not been painted for over 20 years. The Board needs to do a lot better job in leveling with the public about what we cannot afford to do. We also need to continue to pursue alternative sources of funding, such as private donations, corporate partnerships and more efficient use of the Districts real estate. Since I took office in December 1997, we have made a decent start (often from scratch) in most of these areas. Hopefully, with a lot of help from the staff, the Financial Advisory Commission and the community as a whole, we will eventually provide our children with the decent facilities that they deserve.
Below is a spreadsheet that I provided to the Superintendent and the Board in early 1997, and that I provided to the Financial Advisory Commission after it was created. This spreadsheet contains most of my ideas for raising adequate funds to provide decent facilities for our children. This is now a bit out of date, but there are several ideas that I believe are still worth pursuing.
Click here for a spreadsheet showing the actual bids that the Board obtained in June, 1999 for the renovation of the high school, El Rodeo, Hawthorne and Horace Mann. The Board accepted the bid for the high school and rejected the bids for the other three schools.