The March For Science passes the LAUSD headquarters on Beaudry Street
(Image by Carl J. Petersen) Details DMCAps://la.curbed.com/2008/9/29/10558516/lausds-downtown-home">"We'll consolidate all in one and save a fortune, and that's the ultimate in decentralization."
- Former LAUSD Superintendent David Brewer III
Even before the headquarters building on Beaudry Street was purchased by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in 2001 for $75 million, it had a reputation as being an "economic and architectural failure". The builders were sued "over alleged construction defects" and which "had historically been difficult to lease." In the midst of negotiating the purchase, the district's own Inspector General "raised concerns about the building's structural condition, particularly the strength of its floors". Another opinion obtained by the district found that the building was "'shabbily constructed' and warned that the district was 'paying a large premium to purchase a grossly overpriced and seriously troubled building.'" In fact, the district spent more repairing and modifying the space than the actual purchase price, bringing the final cost to $154 million.
The finances surrounding the purchase had even more flaws. Years of financial failure had left several layers of investors, some who had "relatively weak claims on the building's sale". The district had been advised that they could have paid "only $39 million to" the building's primary bondholder and then "could have foreclosed on the building's owners." However, in what the LAUSD said was an effort to prevent an extended court battle, they also paid "$20 million to the building's owners and [another] $15 million" to a subordinate group of bondholders, nearly doubling the cost. That second group of bondholders included the company run by Eli Broad, the school privatization advocate who had helped elect some of the board members who ultimately voted to approve the deal.
Upon opening the building, then superintendent David Brewer maintained that "it [will] be a symbol of success versus a symbol of bureaucracy." The district's stakeholders soon formed a much different opinion. In the words of Brewer's successor, Ramon Cortines, "It's not inviting to parents and the community. Parking is atrocious; getting here is atrocious." The board room located on the first floor is especially problematic as it only seats 155 people. As a result, members of the public often do not get to participate when contentious issues are discussed as they are forced to wait outside when the room reaches capacity.
As enrollment shrinks due to demographic shifts and privatization efforts, the size of the LAUSD's bureaucracy has decreased. According to reports, this has left sections of Beaudry's 28 floors vacant. With the effects of COVID-19 sure to wreak havoc on the district's finances, Beaudry has a huge target painted on it's back as a cash-sucking white elephant. The Los Angeles Times noted in an editorial this week that "Beaudry might go on the market."
While the LA Times editorial board came out in favor of the proposal, it is unclear whether they had read a 2017 study that found "that any move to sell the Beaudry building would likely be a money-loser for L.A. Unified." Of the 3,700 central office workers at that time, it was acknowledged that 1,350 employees "could do their jobs from other locations". However, this would be counterproductive in some cases where it would be more efficient and less costly to keep the positions located at Beaudry.
Without a doubt, it would have been better for the district's students if the board had put more effort into evaluating Beaudry before it was purchased. However, selling the building at a loss would only compound the mistakes that have already been made. In 2022, restrictions from the bond funding will expire allowing the district to lease out unused space. In the meantime, perhaps the LAUSD could offer some of the vacant areas as part of PROP-39 instead of taking needed space from neighborhood schools. At the very least, make these privately operated schools put their administrative space in the same place as the district's operations.
The LA Times is correct in stating that "creating a more responsive and accessible education institution revolves around how L.A. Unified treats people, not a building." It is refreshing to see the editorial board finally make the case that the LAUSD Board "needs to reschedule some of [their] meetings for evenings when students and teachers aren't in class, and when more parents are likely to attend." This was a key plank in my platform when I last ran for school board, but they ignored this idea and my candidacy when making their endorsements in 2017. In 2015, they endorsed Tamar Galatzan,the incumbent who moved the meetings from the evening to mornings and early afternoon.
Instead of changing their address, the LAUSD needs to change its attitude. It needs to counter the perception that Beaudry is a foreboding place by actually welcoming parents as full partners in the education of their children. Fire the Superintendent that was hired without the public's input, pass the proposed Board Meeting Accessibility to the Public resolution that was introduced to them more than a year ago, and eliminate the bureaucracy that stands between parents and the decision-making process.
Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, an appointed alternate to theLAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a "strong supporter of public schools." Links to his blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.