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Posted at 1:16 PM ET, 08/23/2010

The most expensive public school in America

By Mike McPhate

The Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools will open next month in Los Angeles as the most expensive public school in the nation's history, according to a Sunday report from the Associated Press. The campus will house 4,200 students in grades K-12 at a cost of $578 million in the former Ambassador Hotel, the site of the 1968 assassination of the Democratic presidential candidate.

It is a breathtaking sum; in most school districts, $100 million would be considered an excessive cost for construction of a new school. Then again, few public schools serve 4,200 students or 13 grade levels.

-- Daniel de Vise

By Mike McPhate  | August 23, 2010; 1:16 PM ET
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Isn't it time we stopped this madness? I consider the education I received in public schools to be of decent quality and many of my classes were held in...trailers! At a fraction of the cost of this monster! Are we willing to sacrifice the quality of education our kids receive in exchange for the building the learn in? $...137+K per student in construction costs alone? Gimme a break no wonder CA is bankrupt!

Posted by: fedupwithit | August 23, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse


It should probably be noted that the RFK SCHOOLS (yes, that's right there's more than one on the site) not only house 5,000 kids but also roll SIX different LAUSD locations, in the most densely populated portion of Los Angeles, into one location. So the project ends up being a cost saver, despite the price tag. Retain your journalistic integrity by doing your own research, instead of relying on the NewsCorp owned and operated AP, please.

Posted by: doc4725 | August 23, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Interesting Doc4725. How is it a cost saver?

Posted by: susie4 | August 23, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse


The six individual schools that LAUSD is closing in order to open the RFK schools are old, require more teachers and general staff, and have higher general maintenance costs. It's like shutting down several manufacturing plants to create a large one. The new plant is expensive, but ultimately is more efficient than the smaller older plants it is replacing.

Posted by: doc4725 | August 23, 2010 6:34 PM | Report abuse

In my mind, the media attack on this project. Is just another example of infotainment run amuck. Instead of actually being journalists, outlets are just jumping on the AP band wagon to increase circulation, ratings, etc. Has anyone even talked to a spokesperson for LAUSD to hear their side of the story? The free press is in a sad state. Evelyn Waugh eat your heart out.

Posted by: doc4725 | August 23, 2010 6:40 PM | Report abuse

I understand how this new complex will combine services, but gosh....I thought California was bankrupt. Or is that another urban legend.

Posted by: veteranteacher1 | August 23, 2010 9:55 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Doc4725. I too was dismayed after reading Daniels' idea of journalism. The media stumbles upon itself to create the most sensational headlines regardless of facts and analysis.

Posted by: 12345leavemealone | August 24, 2010 6:56 AM | Report abuse

Thanks Doc4725. I too was dismayed after reading Daniel's idea of journalism. The media stumbles upon itself to create the most sensational headlines regardless of facts and analysis.

Posted by: 12345leavemealone | August 24, 2010 6:57 AM | Report abuse

Northwestern High School in Hyattsville had an enrollment of 3000 students throughout the late 60's and it was only grades 10-12. It sure didn't cost 578 million. Then again - costs have run amok these in 40 odd years.

Let it be. The goal isn't education anyway any more.

Posted by: therev1 | August 24, 2010 8:41 AM | Report abuse

If LA or Cali want to spend that much on their school buildings...let's repeat that -- BUILDINGS (not teachers, not books, not supplies)...that is one thing. BUT, the bailouts to the states, like Cali, should stop. My tax dollars should not go to help Cali pay for a nearly $600 million school.

Posted by: trailblazer1 | August 24, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

600 Million for a god darn high school..and some are claiming it is actually cheaper than current costs...please... I beg you ... do not tell me the current costs...I might hang myself in shame...doent anyone find this obscene

Posted by: reddy531 | August 24, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Consolidation to save costs is one thing, but half a billion for one school? If you look at the foot print it's 452,000 square feet, or $1,278 per square foot... Certainly there are other facilities, but ball park square foot estimates include site work and supporting facilities - and this price per SF is absolutely ridiculous! A beautiful mansion goes at about $400 - $500 per square foot...

If a CEO spent $1,278 per SF on their office, they would be hung in the public sector on every major news channel fro wasting investors money, but I guess it's OK to do with with public money...

I know a lot of public facilities that would like that kind of budget...

Posted by: mockymock | August 24, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

A couple of things: The costs were lower when the building was started. The oil issues caused them to rise precipitately in the final year of building. They were lower still when this was first proposed, but the Ambassador Hotel was a landmark and there were protests and blocks against its destruction over a period.

Some of the costs went up to permit public access to the school and a memorial to RFK and the preservation of a piece of the Coconut Grove's wall as a nod to Hollywood history.

In addition to the points above that it will save money by closing old and unmanageable buildings, as a green building it will cost less to run on a day to day bases.

Posted by: Fabrisse | August 24, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

And a billion of federal money is now earmarked for LA schools. Oh goody. They've been so good at managing money in the past, why shouldn't Iowa and Oklahoma pay for this waste?

Hey defenders of this project. Do you hear how ridiculous you sound? WE'RE BROKE. There is no more money. You could steal everyone's life savings and not pay off all the federal, state, and local debt, It's over. You spent us to poverty. Do you get that at all? How big of a collapse of our system will it take for you to acknowledge it?

And all this for a school system with a 50% dropout rate. Maybe the talking park benches will prove more effective educators than the current teacher lineup.


Posted by: kungfoochimp | August 24, 2010 10:57 PM | Report abuse

A school is a log with a student at one end and a teacher at the other. Anything beyond that may contribute to comfort, but not learning.

Students in miserable, century-old European classrooms, heated by a wood stove in the center of the room, are leaps and bounds ahead of American students when it comes to knowing math, science, and languages.

For such an education-resource-wasting Taj Mahal to have ever been built, there must be some seriously poor judgment and neglectful oversight in the LA schools administration.

Posted by: kcx7 | August 24, 2010 11:31 PM | Report abuse

Couple points.
1) for those who still want to try and attack this project. The money used to make the RFK Schools came from a municipal bond issue. There was no bailout money. Tax dollars from Texas didn't go to this project, unless the state of texas decided to buy a LAUSD bond.
2) kungfoochimp, you're absolutely right. WE ARE BROKE. That means we have to not only tighten our belts, but also change our costs. Strategic spending, as Reagan used to call it. Work smarter, not harder. 3) kcx7, you're completely off base. Schools in Europe have three things going for them: a culture that values formal education (we value money); a teacher credentialing process that makes sure only the best are put in front of the kids; and finally a federal welfare state that provides for a FREE and an equal education for every child. I'm sure you knew that before you complained about gov't spending on education. Yes, I know you thought about that.

Posted by: doc4725 | August 25, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Also, California state law stipulates that any money raised through municipal bond issue must be spent on the specific purpose described in the issue. So many raised for construction, can't be used on anything else. So even if LAUSD might have liked to, they couldn't pay teachers better, refurbish old buildings, etc. The bond said,"new buildings" so that's what they did. You all would know this if the journalists reporting on it actually did their jobs.

Posted by: doc4725 | August 25, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

I've been reading the comments. That's true - the media never said this was 6 different locations. My questions are: 1) How does class size in the new school compare to class size in the other LA schools, and, similarly, 2) how do library facilities/librarians compare? 3)Who chooses which students attend? 4)Who chooses which teachers teach at that location? 5) How similar is curriculum used in this location to curriculum used in other LAUSD schools?

Posted by: wobblywatsonjr | August 25, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse


I will be supervising a team of student teachers at the site and have visited the site several times already.

When you ask about class size, do you mean teacher:pupil ratio or literal square footage? The square footage per classroom is comparable to other classrooms. They are decent sized.

I have only seen one library thus far, in one of the elementary schools that have been open for a full year. It is fully stocked. Very nice. They even have a wireless router! I haven't met the librarians yet.

Students must live within the geographical boundaries of the school. This said, the school is in one of the poorest, densest neighborhoods in the country (about 40,000 people per square mile,

The school exists within a new enrollment construct called the RFK Zone of Choice. The site hosts several themed academies. Students rank their preferences and a lottery assigns them to a school.

The schools are all Pilot Schools, which are similar to Charter Schools, but are considered LAUSD schools. Each of these has local, on-site autonomy and accountability. The principals work with their Instructional Leadership Team to hire teachers. I have worked with many of the teachers at these schools and they are some of the best and brightest in LAUSD.

As I stated before, the schools have local autonomy. This means that the schools themselves select their curricula. Of course, schools are held to the same content standards as the rest of California and students will be taking the same high-stakes accountability exams come next May.

Posted by: JoshuaCook | August 28, 2010 12:29 AM | Report abuse

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