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L.A. Schools Seek to Use $30 Million for Quake Repairs : Education: The money was earmarked for five special high schools, but officials tell the state they face a crisis. The district must act by June 30.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

In an effort to break what they see as a stalemate between the state and federal governments, Los Angeles Unified School District officials are asking the state to shift $30 million earmarked for five special high schools to fixing earthquake-damaged campuses.

If the request is granted, money for the five new academy schools could be replaced only by passage of a school construction bond measure in November. District officials said, however, that they were not yet prepared to submit plans for the academy schools and that the $30 million could help spur the Federal Emergency Management Agency into funding quake repairs.

“Although these programs are very valuable and innovative and great for kids, they’re down the road apiece and here we are with a crisis,” said Bill Rivera, the district’s spokesman.

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“It seems sensible to use the $30 million to unclog the pipeline to repair the buildings and classrooms that are sitting here unusable. We are willing to take a gamble that we will get the money back when we are closer to completion on these projects.”

The $30 million would be used to pay the state’s share of the district’s earthquake repairs, which could top $300 million, officials said.

FEMA officials deny that repair projects are being stalled. They say that release of the $30 million will not affect the speed with which money or projects are approved for the schools.

“I think they’re mutually exclusive,” said Morrie Goodman, the FEMA spokesman in Washington. “The $30 million just has nothing to do with the release of (federal) money.”

School district officials say they were led to believe that their big-ticket repair projects were not being approved because FEMA was still negotiating with the state over how to split earthquake costs. FEMA is paying 90% of the repair costs, and discussions are under way over how much the state and local agencies will have to contribute.

The debate at the state level was made more contentious by the failure of a bond measure earlier this month that would have allocated money for both school construction and earthquake repairs.

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The district faces a June 30 deadline for using the $30 million. After that date, the money will revert to the State Allocation Board, which will probably decide whether it can be used for earthquake repairs at a meeting July 6.

The so-called Career Development Partnership Academy Project, which was highly touted by the district when proposed, was designed for students interested in careers in medicine and science, business and entertainment. The schools, to be located Downtown and in Van Nuys, Hollywood, Compton and Southeast Los Angeles, are designed as partnerships involving the district, city, state and private developers.

Students at Van Nuys Medical Academy, for example, would work and take courses at Valley Presbyterian Hospital, which is next to property that the district owns.

Dom Shambra, the district’s director of planning and development who oversees the academy projects, said that he could not get the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency to commit to two of the academy projects and that the earthquake stalled the district’s efforts.

“It was a little more difficult to put together than we expected,” Shambra said. “It was moving along, but because of circumstances we couldn’t control . . . an earthquake . . . it was a matter of choice. Do we keep a program and fight to hold onto the money or do we use the money for earthquake repairs?”

But district officials acknowledged that they are gambling on the money being replaced by the passage of a bond measure in November.

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Shambra said he had intended to ask the State Allocation Board for a three-month extension for the academy schools but then decided that the earthquake repairs took priority. “We just thought we needed to jump-start the FEMA projects,” he said.

Supt. Sid Thompson, who made the request for the $30-million reallocation in a letter to Wright, also sent a letter to FEMA Director James Witt explaining the rationale for the shift in state funds.

“Should my funding request to the state be approved--and I see no reason why it can’t since it is our money--I would hope that in the next few days FEMA would be able to announce approval of a number of major school reconstruction projects,” Thompson said in his letter. “People don’t see anything happening to repair of buildings. Damaged structures remain standing, stark reminders of the tragedy, surrounded by chain-link fences and yellow tape.

“Similar scenes in school after school underscore the lack of action,” Thompson said.

The district has received about $70 million from FEMA and has spent $17 million on building repairs, safety and structural inspections and the replacement of lost or damaged textbooks, supplies and equipment.

About 160 campuses suffered damage in the Jan. 17 earthquake. Many had fallen ceiling tiles and cracked walls, and an entire Granada Hills elementary school was rendered unusable.

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