Los Angeles to Open Latest of Its 'Taj Mahal Schools'

Posted by Nikhil Swaminathan

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What can you get for $578 million? Well, if you're the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), you can get one school—or rather seven schools in one sprawling, well-manicured campus that's part idealized learning center, part historical preservation site. A short piece over at The Week's website quickly breaks down pertinent facts about the project.

Built on the site of the old Ambassador Hotel, where Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down by Sirhan Sirhan in 1968, the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools will open next month, serving more than 4,000 students. The price tag on the new so-called "Taj Mahal" school is raising as many eyebrows across the country as last week's Los Angeles Times exposé on which of the city's teachers were good and which ones were ineffective.

According to an AP report, LAUSD is suffering a $640 million budget shortfall and has let go of 3,000 teachers over the last two years. A blog post at the over at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes that the recent $10 billion EduJobs bill, which just made its way through Congress, includes more than $1 billion for the struggling district.

Sure, sending our kids to schools that look drab and penitentiary-like isn't ideal, but this seems like a steep bill for a cash-strapped district (and cash-strapped taxpayers) to foot. The AP piece notes that Massachusetts dealt with the compulsion to build Taj Mahal schools by creating three templates that new schools can be designed according to. (The most expensive version is roughly $70 million.) Meanwhile, this is the third wallet-busting school built in L.A.

Given the close proximity between the teacher quality discussion in L.A. and the new campus, AJC writer Maureen Downey's assertion that, "The more important investment to me would be “state-of-the art” teachers," seems to cut right to the issue surrounding the huge, new educational complex.

My question: What sort of curriculum and programs will be offered at the new RFK Community Schools? I hope it's not the standard district curriculum that's resulted in an abysmal dropout rate. No matter how pretty the package is (or its "state-of-the-art swimming pool), what's going on inside its door is really what counts.

Photo via Jay L. Clendenin for the Los Angeles Times.