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L.A. to open most expensive school in U.S.

August 23, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
With a price tag of $578 million, the new Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex opening in Los Angeles has the distinction of being the most expensive school facility in the U.S.The school, which is at the site of the former Ambassador Hotel off Wilshire Boulevard, has already triggered plenty of controversy and criticism.

A flat screen TV embedded in a walkway, red velvet seats and a maple basketball floor are just some of the features at the new school set to open in September.

"This is not one school of 4,000, this is six individual schools," said Supt. Raymond Cortines of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

But at $137,000 per student, a Los Angeles parents union said it's an extravagant use of taxpayer money.

"The district is spending a whole lot of time on the four walls around the classroom but is spending very little time thinking about what goes inside the classroom," said Ben Austin with Parent Revolution. "It's going to be run by the same people who brought us a 50 percent dropout rate."

The opening comes on the heels of layoffs of 3,000 teachers over the past two years.

"The amount of money is certainly beyond the pale, but the children deserve the best learning environment," said United Teachers Los Angeles union president A.J. Duffy. "However, we believe that far too much money is going to consultants when internal people could do the same jobs for less money."

Cortines said the money used came with some very strict rules.

"It was very specific, this bond issue that built the school," Cortines said. "It is illegal to use the money for other than what the voters approved."

The district also spent millions in legal fees. Preservationists wanted to make sure the history of the old Ambassador Hotel would be remembered. Robert F. Kennedy was shot at the hotel in 1968 after delivering a victory speech for the presidential primary.

Cortines said the school is crucial in one off the most densely populated areas of Los Angeles and that it's a facility that will serve the community for generations.

"I don't look at this as a school for today," Cortines said. "I look at this as a school for the next 150 years."

The school was designed and constructed before the present economic downturn. Officials said something this expensive would likely not be built in the future.

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