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LAUSD Readies Its $578 Million RFK Campus for School Year

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The conversion of the Ambassador Hotel site to a Los Angeles Unified School District mega-campus is almost complete, as the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools preps to welcome students for the first time ever next month.

The campus is one of several in a group nicknamed the LAUSD's "Taj Mahal Schools," referring to its size, opulence, amenities, and, of course, cost. At $578 million, RFK will host over 4,000 students, and surpasses Roybal as the most expensive school in the district, which itself had previously surpassed the architecturally interesting arts high school in Downtown.

What has some eyebrows raised, however, is the almost shocking contrast between the spectacle of the campus, and the dire situation the LAUSD faces in the columns of its own ledger books, namely a $640 million budget shortfall that is necessitating the pink slip-ping of thousands of teachers and cutbacks in school programs and services.

It would be easy to point to RFK and wonder why that $578 million wasn't spent on teachers; unfortunately funding doesn't quite work that way. "From its inception, the Ambassador schools were intended to be one of the most elaborate campuses, funded through the district's $20 billion voter-approved construction bond program," explained the Daily News in July.

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Some may argue that a school that doesn't resemble a prison is, in part, incentive for students to come to school and do well. So are great teachers, enriching and diverse program offerings, and engaging curriculum.

GOOD education writer Nikhil Swaminathan wonders if all the bells and whistles RFK has on the surface, if it will have a resonant impact:

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.

What goes on inside is measured by test scores, predominantly, and, in turn, those test scores are how teachers are being assessed, which is a hot-button issue right now as the Los Angeles Times prepares to publish a conroversial database of teacher performance rankings.