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Despite $20 billion in bond funds, LA schools committee uncovers 50k backlogged repair requests

A photo posted on a Facebook group called
A photo posted on a Facebook group called "repairs not iPads."
Repairs Not iPads/Facebook

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A Los Angeles Unified school board committee on Thursday found a backlog of 50,000 neglected repairs at campuses - a number that is only expected to grow. School district officials said the budget for repairs has been slashed by more than 65% since 2008. 

Monica Ratliff, who joined the school board last year, said the public deserves to know why repairs are piling up.

“I believe it is a question people do want an answer to," Ratliff said. "I haven’t been here long enough to be able to answer that question, but if someone at some point could, I think that would be valuable.”

The text of the five bond measures passed by Los Angeles voters since 1999 totaling $20 billion all said the funds would go to, among other things, fix crumbling campuses.

"Measure K will permit local schools to repair leaky roofs, unsanitary bathrooms, and electrical wiring," read the arguments for the measure, according to information compiled by the League of Women Voters.  "Everyone knows it is cheaper to upgrade and repair schools now, before problems get worse."

Tom Rubin, a consultant for the committee that oversees bond funds, said it's more common for bond funds to be used to replace a roof rather than fix a leak.

But even those repairs aren't being done. Records show 38 of the high schools surveyed are in critical need of new or repaired roofs. The roofs of more than 50 schools are reported as being in poor condition.

Even life-cycle repairs such as roof or air-conditioner replacements will inevitably exhaust available bond funds.  Officials estimate those repairs will run over $13 billion over the next fifteen years, much more than the remaining bond funds.

The money is not coming from other usual pockets either. The state used to earmark 3% of the district's funding for upkeep, but since California moved to a flexible spending model, much of those funds have been diverted to other uses. 

This year, L.A. Unified's maintenance office set aside $99 million for repairs, but officials estimate it will take closer to $400 million every year.

Thursday's debate at the Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee was ignited by Matthew Kogan, an L.A. Unified teacher who has gone public with his criticism of the district's plan to spend $1.3 billion on an iPad for every student and teacher when there are broken toilets and sinks without piping in some schools and rat droppings are routinely found on students desks in others.

Kogan started a facebook group called Repairs not iPads where teachers are posting photos of neglected water fountains, ceilings and windows. After KPCC reported on the group and other media followed, the school board budget committee decided to take up the issue.

“It’s not just iPads versus maintenance: it’s everything versus iPads," Kogan said during Thursday's meeting. "What hasn’t been cut to the bone? Early education, adult education, arts education!”