Report: Beverly Hills School District Paid for Legal Fight with School Construction Funds

Report: Beverly Hills School District Paid for Legal Fight with School Construction Funds

The Beverly Hills Unified School District, fighting the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority over a proposed plan to build an extension of the subway underneath Beverly Hills High School, is being accused of taking money from a bond issue whose funds were intended for school construction. 

The Los Angeles Register reports that the school district spent at least $3 million of the funds allotted it by Measure E when it passed in 2008.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky commented that the situation “certainly raises an eyebrow.”

According to California law, voter-approved school bonds must be used for the projects outlined in the approved list. This is not the first time the district has been criticized for its lack of a master list delineating what Measure E funds were used for litigation and offering an explanation of how the legal matter is related to construction projects. Harvey M. Rose Associates asserts that only a general list of goals exists. Measure E allotted $334 million to pay for items such as “safe and modernized school facilities… necessary structural seismic safety repairs, (to) upgrade, repair and reconstruct aging classrooms, infrastructure, multi-use, gyms, libraries, science, technology and labs.”

An argument has sprung up between the district and members of the City Council; Beverly Hills Councilman William W. Brien said:

I think that where certain geotechnical studies may have been needed to be done, obviously in preparation for building construction at the high school and other sites, (those) were an appropriate use of funds. Beyond that, it is my opinion that that’s not what the taxpayers voted for, for monies to be spent on other activities and legal battles. This is a construction bond and it should be used to enhance and build the finest academic standards for our children in the city.

But the only major construction the city has finished is the Horace Mann School auditorium renovation, completed in June 2013, roughly five years after measure E was passed.

Both the school district and the city of Beverly Hills want the subway line to run along Santa Monica Boulevard; the district is worried that building the subway under the school would prompt seismological activity as well as create the possibility of hazards like methane gas. These reasons are offered as justification for spending funds to fight the subway under the school.

The school district has consulted legal experts who assert that the district has a right to use the funds to fight Metro, according to performance audits and district officials. One audit stated, “The fees were deemed allowable by bond counsel,” (the district should) “continue to closely monitor legal amounts paid to ensure that maximum funds are available for facilities construction projects while, at the same time, ultimately defending the program.”

The Beverly Hills Weekly, echoed by Beverly Hills Board of Education member Lisa Korbatov, reported that legal fees for the district to fight Metro totaled approximately $4.1 million.

Board of Education President Noah Margo said another concern for district officials is that once the subway is built under the school, Metro will have the power to deny the school the chance to make improvements. He said, “I think all of us on the board would agree that we’ve spent too much money on this. A lot of people would say it’s because we want to, but that’s not true. We got pushed against a wall and we’re trying to protect the land underneath our school and our ability to build in the future. It will be best if we just stay clear of each other.”

But Councilman Brien had a different view:

The city of Beverly Hills and the school district have voiced their preference for the Santa Monica Boulevard alignment. It is not going to happen, in my opinion. The routing that has been cited … is going to go into the center of Century City and it’s going to go under a portion of the high school. It’s time to figure out how to do that in a way that protects and mitigates any of the concerns that the city and the school district have.