Los Angeles Unified School District officials estimate another $40 billion is needed to replace roofs, upgrade plumbing and repair hundreds of aging campuses – but first they'll need the voters' blessing.
On Tuesday, the school board is scheduled to consider a $22.4 million request to address antiquated heating and cooling systems, failing walls, deteriorated pavement and broken fire alarm systems.
The request covers projects at seven schools, barely making a dent in the district's estimate of need for 13,500 buildings.
A request to sell more bonds is all but sure to find its way onto future ballots, said Roger Finstad, director of maintenance and operations for L.A. Unified.
"It's inevitable," he said. "We want our students and staff to be in buildings and on grounds that are in good condition, where the roofs don't leak and the air conditioning works."
The campaign for more funds – expected within the next decade – may face opposition from voters feeling burned by controversial and over-budget projects.
"I'm not voting for any bonds," said Monica Whalen, a parent and teacher at Franklin High School in Highland Park, a school approaching its centennial.
"They wasted the funds on the iPads. They didn't repair the problems the schools are facing," she said.
The district set aside $1.3 billion in school construction and modernization bond funds to supply every student and teacher with a tablet, education software and to upgrade campus Wi-Fi.
Meanwhile, the district is chipping away at a backlog of 50,000 repairs, be they leaks in the district's 40,200 drinking fountains or problems with its 68,000 heating and air conditioners.
KPCC reported in September the backlog included 200 fire safety concerns such as aging alarms, outdated extinguishers and leaking sprinklers.
District officials have found many of these repairs are routine maintenance and not bond fundable. Bonds are typically used to replace a roof not fix a leak.
Since 1997, voters agreed to a property tax hike to pay for $19.5 billion for school construction and improvements through several bond measures.
The district built 130 new schools to relieve overcrowding, but now it faces the opposite problem – fewer and fewer students.
A recent Moody's report outlined financial concerns stemming from declining enrollment, though the investor service still rates L.A. Unified highly (Aa2 stable).
By next spring, district officials said they'll begin planning to sell the last package of bonds that voters approved, Measure Q's $7 billion.
Finstad said the district plans to use cash from the Measure Q bond sale to reprioritize.
"We had a tremendous organization that went out and built new schools," Finstad said. "We now are having to refocus and develop skill sets to assess and upgrade our existing facilities. It's really a different task."
The district can't continue to underfund and defer needed repairs, said Mark Hovatter, chief facilities executive, in a recent memo to interim Superintendent Ramon Cortines.
"We would jeopardize student and staff safety and we would also lose the confidence of teachers principals, and other district staff as well as the public who vote for our school construction bonds. Given these facts I believe we need to carefully consider how we plan our way ahead," Hovatter said.