What if they built a school and nobody came

When it’s completed this fall, a new $105 million high school in southern California will be “be a high-tech academic hub with wireless Internet, a robotics lab, digital smart boards in every classroom and a first-rate performance hall worthy of any ‘Glee’ hopeful,” writes the Los Angeles Times.  Hillcrest High will  have everything but students.

Hit by state funding cuts, the Alvord Unified School District “doesn’t have the money to turn on the lights or hire staff.”

Voters passed a bond issue in 2007 to build and equip the new school. Hillcrest High will remain empty — at a cost of $1 million a year — for at least a year. Students will go to La Sierra High School, a campus with 3,400 students, more than twice the number it was designed for.

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  1. Sorry to be dense, but why can’t they simply move half the students and half the staff from La Sierra to the new HillCrest building?

  2. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Presumably there are fixed overhead costs that accrue on a per-site basis — I’m thinking things like HVAC, Liability Insurance, Custodial staff, groundskeeping, basic administrative support costs (a secretary has to answer the phone at each school), etc.

    But it’s a legitimate question.

    But perhaps a better question would be “Why don’t they just close La Sierra and use the new digs?” (The answer probably has to do with the capacities of the campuses…)

  3. The district is going to have to pay most of those facility costs regardless of whether the school is open or not.

    And while there is some justification for higher staffing costs per pupil at small schools, I don’ think that’s really applicable here. Splitting La Sierra would replace one “mega” schools with two “large” ones.

    The article doesn’t give any details, but I think there has to be more to the story – perhaps some artificial (union?) rules driving the amount of “fixed staff” each building must have.

  4. What a shame, I certainly hope the district can find a way to populate the school. I would hate to see a world-class facility go to waste, when other classrooms around the state and country are growing so large. I’ll have to keep an eye on this one!

  5. Back of the envelops calculations. Let’s see…
    20000 students in the district. Divide by 12 and we get 1,666 per grade level. If they all went to Hillcrest, that’s 4 x 1,666 or 6,666 students. Invest $105 million (round down to $100 million) at 5% and we get $5 million per year. That’s $1.2 million per grade level. Now $1.2 million divided by 8/3 x 1000 is $3.6 x 1000 over 8 per pupil or $450 per pupil-year. Not bad. But there are three high schools in the district, so let’s multiply by three, and get $1350. Average class size at a sister high school was over 30, so let’s see how much the district spends per class…
    30x $1350 is $40,050.
    You think you could rent a room for that?
    (Scott): “I would hate to see a world-class facility go to waste.
    Maybe a world-class facility is a waste.
    Maybe the district cannot afford to pay staff because they blew so much on construction, huh?

  6. The problem is that they spent a bloody fortune for the school and now they have no money to use it. From this link:


    We find: “In all, Sukut will excavate and remove 350,000 cubic yards of dirt, and create a 65,000-square-foot soil nail wall. The wall system will be supported by 100-foot-long soil anchors drilled horizontally into the sheered mountainside, then covered by layers of concrete including a final layer sculpted into a boulder-scape facade. Sukut also will perform mass grading for the entire campus, including school building pads, the football field and storm drains.”

    So, $7.5 million just to move a mountain and clear the 50 acre site. FIFTY acres! That’s a square 600 yards on a side. Was your high school even remotely that big?

    According to the stats at this link: http://www.ncef.org/ds/statistics.cfm#

    New high schools cost about $40M on average. They built a palace. Given where California state economics are headed, my prediction is that this site is never used as a school and gets sold off cheap to some corporation looking for a “campus”. The value of that district’s tax base is off at least 25% from when the bonds were issued.

  7. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Rob –

    It’s not 600 yards on a side. It’s 492 yards on a side — about 242,000 square yards. That’s not THAT big:

    Some quick, conservative (rounding down whenever possible) calculations using google maps, a ruler, and a big screen show that my high school was about 165,000 square yards. So that’s almost 50% larger than my high school, but land is a LOT cheaper in Riverside than it is in Orange County where I live (some 40 miles away).

    My old school recently built a very large building up on stilts, too, over the main staff parking lot due to crowding. And it’s still a very crowded campus, holding around 600-700 more students now than it did when I attended (and it was the same size, in terms of square yardage).

    Clearly they spent a lot of money out in Riverside — more than they needed to, and likely more than they should. Smartboards are nice, but not worth the cost/maintenance, at least not yet.

    But the size of the school itself doesn’t strike me as completely unreasonable.

  8. Malcolm, where did the 8/3 come from in your calculation?