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Taj Mahal High

Public school isn’t yet on my personal radar given that my daughter won’t enter Kindergarten until 2012, but the state of our public schools always is on my mind. Less than a year ago my town passed a tax override, which I ultimately supported, to rebuild an aging elementary school (not the one our daughter will attend). It’s a fairly modest proposal to fix up a school in an affluent neighborhood, in one of our state’s best school districts to bring it up to code and up to par.

So what is going on, I wonder, in LA, NYC, Brunswick, NJ, and across town from me in Newton, MA, where officials are spending obscene amounts of money on new school buildings?  The Los Angeles Unified School District takes the cake with a new school costing $578 million — that’s $250,000 per pupil at the school where 4,200 children in grades K-12 grade. Now, I’m firm believer that environments matter, and even in a down economy (and in fairness, most of these projects began before the recession was what it is today), it doesn’t make sense to be short-sighted in your spending for a school building that should last for decades. But a school that costs more than the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing?

In a town right around the corner from me, a project that started out as a modest $40+ million dollar renovation to the high school ballooned to be the state’s most expensive school building by a wide margin at a whopping $197.5 million — or $106,756 per pupil.  You could give every student 2 personal teachers at that rate.  Sure there’s been some press, but where is the broader outrage. The officials responsible for these projects try to spin it with statements like “our children deserve world-class learning environments.”  Sure they do, but great teaching environments start with great teachers, great supplies and sensibility and accountability from the people managing the system.

The state-of-the-art aquatic centers, black box amphitheaters, and 5-star faculty dining halls seem like an awful lot of excess when there is so much missing from the fundamentals and when so many other districts are doing a lot more with a lot less.

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