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L.A. Board Gaffe Puts School Renovations in Doubt : Education: Nearly $2 million to fix up Fries and Gulf elementary schools must be returned to the state because it was not used quickly enough.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It’s a lesson plan in how not to run a school program, say school board members.

First, the Los Angeles Unified School District went to the state and got almost $2 million to spend during the 1989-90 school year to fix up Fries Avenue and Gulf Avenue elementary schools.

Then, the district delayed work at the Wilmington schools because there weren’t enough construction managers to handle all the projects that were funded. The district gave priority in assigning project managers to year-round schools, and so Fries and Gulf lost out.

Next, under the state’s use-it-or-lose-it rule, the school district had to send back money earmarked for the two schools. .

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Not long after that, the district decided Fries and Gulf would go year-round and should receive priority for renovations.

The district will apply to the state again, but the money “is probably going to be lost forever,” Los Angeles Unified District board member Roberta Weintraub said last week, and “I don’t expect it back.”

She added, “It makes us look like a bunch of idiots. It leaves us with no money to modernize the schools.”

The proposed modernization projects at Gulf and Fries include bringing the schools into compliance with fire and building regulations, providing air conditioning in classrooms, refinishing wood floors, hanging new lighting and ceilings in corridors, as well as installing new security and public address systems in both schools.

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Fries and Gulf in the South Bay are among 11 schools in the district that began year-round classes in July, seven months after the district returned funds earmarked for projects at the schools.

The 11 schools had been told that the district would spend almost $8 million on repairs in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Now, if the district wants to go ahead with the renovations, it must reapply for the site-specific funding. But there is no guarantee that the money will become available again, officials said.

The situation is the latest problem with construction priorities to surface in the financially pressed and badly overcrowded school district.

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To the dismay of board members, the school district has had to send back to the state $18.7 million in site-specific funds it was unable to spend. The money includes the $8 million at the 11 schools that went year-round in July, as well as 10 schools still on a traditional calendar.

Board member Warren Furutani said the school district’s handling of modernization projects “is not working” and the foul-up over year-round schools makes a bad situation worse.

“We go after the money and we get the money and then we return the money. It is a contradiction that intensifies even more with the year-round issue,” he said.

The district “took money from the schools because they weren’t year-round” but later “made them year-round. . . . One of the conclusions is, you are not thinking far enough ahead,” he said.

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School board President Jackie Goldberg said the decision to have the entire system on a year-round calendar was governed by board politics, not sound management.

The board voted in February, 1990, to phase in a year-round calendar throughout the system. But most of the initial year-round schools, including Fries and Gulf, were not finally designated until April.

“It was such a political thing how the year-round decisions were made. . . . Once we got (a majority of) four votes, then the question was how many, how fast and which ones. It would have been a pretty good trick to know which ones” would be year-round ahead of time, she said.

The returning of the $18.7 million that was to be spent on modernization projects at the 21 schools followed a school board decision to give high priority to projects at year-round schools and to put all other modernization projects on hold.

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In an attempt to salvage some of the lost money, the district is now angling to get Fries and Gulf and the nine other schools that went year-round in July back in the state queue for modernization project money.

“Some of them are going to get replenished, and some of them are not,” said Fernando Alexander, a field representative in the state Office of Local Assistance. “It is a mad scramble all over the state for that money.”

Bill Van Gundy, executive officer for the State Allocation Board, which sets state funding priorities for school construction, said: “It may take three to four years, but probably a lot less. With as many schools as are in (Los Angeles), it really is a mass production management problem.”

South Bay schools that remain on a traditional calendar and were unable to have funded renovation work done are Dominguez, Denker and Wilmington Park elementary schools. The three saw a total of $1.7 million in construction projects evaporate.

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This coming school year, 13 South Bay schools that are not yet year-round are among 52 districtwide that face the prospect of losing a total of $13.6 million in construction money. The money has been allocated to the schools for modernization, but they are all on the district’s inactive list because schools that are now year-round have priority.

The elementary schools are Amestoy, Avalon Gardens, Del Amo, Denker, Dominguez, 186th Street, 156th Street, 135th Street and Wilmington Park. Peary and Wilmington junior high schools face possible delays, and the senior high schools affected by the crunch are Gardena and Washington Preparatory.


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