So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

More than 100,000 LA school repairs backlogged; fire safety at risk in some schools

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Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

Dan Sapia shuts off water to the fire sprinklers at Hoover Street Elementary School in the Los Angeles Unified school district. His plumbing crew is often pulled from one emergency job, such as repairing this water main leak, to another, leaving little time for outstanding requests.

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Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

Dan Sapia, left, consults Christopher Cadena while working on a leaking water main at Hoover Street Elementary School. The Los Angeles Unified School District plumbing crew estimated that the repair would take three days. Until the water main feeding the fire sprinklers is fixed, the school has someone on fire watch at all hours of the day.

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Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

Christopher Cadena climbs in a hole five-feet deep, unearthing a leaking water main that feeds the fire sprinkler system at Hoover Street Elementary School. A backlog of repair requests show plumbing problems plague many campuses.


From burned out light bulbs and cracked concrete to compromised fire safety systems and exposed electrical wiring, Los Angeles Unified schools are waiting on 116,000 maintenance and safety problems reported since January, records show, and officials said they don't have the staff or money to fix them all.

An analysis of 165,400 repair requests filed with the school district this year showed less than a third have been addressed.

"We are very short staffed," said Roger Finstad, head of maintenance and operations at L.A. Unified. "We're operating at less than half the funding we had just about six years ago." 

Status of 2014 work orders submitted to LA Unified (as of Aug. 8, 2014)

L.A. Unified set aside about $100 million for repairs this year, but Finstad said it would cost about $400 million every year to get all the work done.

The state used to require schools to reserve 3 percent of funds for upkeep. During the recession, that requirement was removed to give schools more flexibility. If the mandate was still in place, L.A. Unified would have to double funds for maintenance and repairs this year.

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Some LA Unified students wilting in heat waiting for air-conditioning repairs

courtesy of Karla Johnson

Spanish teacher Karla Johnson takes the classroom temperature at Franklin High School in L.A.'s Highland Park. She says she's been complaining about faulty air conditioning for 10 years.

L.A. Unified says it has air conditioning in all 32,000 school district classrooms, but 2,000 pending service calls have turned the current heat wave into a repair crisis.

On Monday, at Franklin High School in Highland Park, the conditions were sweltering.

"I have a temperature gun and the highest temperature inside the classroom was 92 degrees,” Spanish teacher Karla Johnson said.

That’s too hot for her students to learn.

“They are having problems concentrating, they’re falling asleep, they’re sweating. I can see sweat dripping down their face while I’m trying to teach them,” Johnson said, adding the air-conditioning problems aren’t new. She's been complaining about the situation for 10 years.

What's it going to take to lower classroom temperatures to a level where learning can go on?

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AG truancy report: Student absences highest among low-income, black students

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

California Attorney General Kamala Harris unveils a report on chronic absences among elementary school students.

As many as 250,000 California elementary students missed 10 percent of the past school year or roughly 18 or more days, numbers that a report released by Attorney General Kamala Harris called alarming.

Most troubling are high absences among low-income and African-American students, said Harris, speaking at a Friday news conference at the Malabar Street Elementary School in East Los Angeles. 

“Students of color and high-need children are at an extreme risk," Harris said. "What we have found, and new research has unveiled, is that African-American students are far more likely to miss school than their peers.”

One in five black students are absent more than 18 days out of the school year, according to the In School + On Track report. And nearly all of the students who missed more than a month of school per year came from low-income families.

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County approves LA schools controversial budget

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Jack Lyons/flickr Creative Commons

stay frosty

The Los Angeles County Office of Education approved L.A. Unified's $7.3 billion budget this week after county officials raised concerns the district may be misrepresenting its financial figures.

This school year, L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy is channeling more than half of the $837 million in state funds for low-income students, English learners and foster youth into the special education program, arguing 80 percent of the special education students fall into one or more of the three targeted groups.

Under California's Local Control Funding law, counties are required to sign off on school districts' spending plans for these high-need students. In late August, Los Angeles county officials asked L.A. Unified to "provide rationale that supports the identification of these expenditures." 

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Frank Gehry designing new social service campus in Watts

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Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

Tawnya Spencer rubs the backs of children during nap time at a Head Start program in Imperial Gardens in Watts. The program is run by Children's Institute, which serves more than 22,000 children in Los Angeles' most challenging neighborhoods.

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Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

Desiree Lee teaches a Head Start student how to wash his hands at the site in Imperial Gardens in Watts.

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Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

A now empty Los Angeles County health clinic will be demolished to make way for a new Children's Institute building designed by the architect Frank Gehry.

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Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

Children's Institute renovated this space at its location in Watts to make it more inviting for community members to come in and seek services.

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A young girl takes a nap at the Head Start facility in Imperial Gardens run by the Children's Institute. The program helps kids in rough neighborhoods learn in a safe environment.

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Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

This is one of the waiting rooms inside the old L.A. county health clinic in Watts. The building will be demolished to make way for a new clinic designed by the architect Frank Gehry.

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Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

In contrast to a sterile health clinic, Children's Institute makes its space more inviting to encourage people in the community to come in and seek mental health services.

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Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

A young boy at the Head Start facility in Imperial Gardens in Watts puts on his shoes before taking a nap. The program offers a safe haven for children who may live in housing projects known for drug activity and violence.

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Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

Pictured is one of the now empty exam rooms in the closed L.A. county health clinic in Watts. Children's Institute plans to construct a new building that will be more inviting to those seeking mental health services.

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Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

A playground at the Head Start facility run by Children's Institute is a stark contrast to the Imperial Gardens neighborhood that surrounds the building.


The social service organization Children’s Institute Inc. is planning a new campus in Watts designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry.

It’s a small coup for the institute, which began working in Watts in 2007 and is best known for the 10 preschool sites it runs in the community. Yet it offers more than just free preschool.

In space once occupied by the closed Los Angeles County South Health Clinic, the institute is pulling together clinical and mental health services, family services such as parenting training, and youth development programs that include art classes and leadership training. Parents walk in the door to sign up for Head Start and often access other needed services.

“Children’s Institute in an arrangement with the county was able to take over the space and we have renovated one of the two buildings in order to provide our blend of youth development and clinical and family support services here at this site,” said Nina Revoyr, the institute’s executive vice president.

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