Los Angeles’ Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools isn’t making headlines just because it was built on the site of its namesake’s 1968 assassination. Once this school year starts, it will be the most expensive public school in our nation, costing the Los Angeles Unified school district (and taxpayers) $578 million to build.
The 24-acre K-12 campus will house 4,260 students in seven buildings come September. Its more luxurious features include fine art murals, a marble memorial dedicated to RFK, a public park, a state-of-the-art swimming pool, underground parking and "talking" benches that recall the site's historical significance. The buildings also include restored or recreated sections of the now-infamous 1921 Ambassador Hotel and the Coconut Grove nightclub.
The RFK campus isn’t the first school in Los Angeles to carry a hefty price tag. The $377 million Edward R. Roybal Learning Center opened in 2008, and the $232 million Visual and Performing Arts High School opened in 2009.
The cost of these schools wouldn’t be such an issue if California wasn’t one of the most cash-strapped states in the U.S. The state is set to receive $1.3 billion in aid through the $26 billion bill passed earlier this month by Congress, which intends to stave off teacher layoffs, prevent cuts of Medicaid services to the poor and generally alleviate out-of-control state budget deficits.
According to California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, the state has a $6.3 billion projected deficit for 2009–10 and a $14.4 billion gap between projected revenues and spending in 2010–11.
According to the Associated Press, California has laid off nearly 3,000 teachers over the past two years. RFK Community Schools’ district, in particular, also faces a $640 million shortfall, and some of its schools persistently rank among the nation's lowest performing. These facts have led some to question the pricey new construction.