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EDITORIAL : CREATING A LEGACY; UNLESS MORE AGENCIES INVESTIGATE THE LAUSD, THE DISTRICT AND OTHERS MAY JUST GET AWAY WITH BUILDING BELMONT.

THE fact that rogue bureaucrats accountable to no one and responsible to no one run the Los Angeles Unified School District should come as no surprise to parents who have lost faith in the city's schools or to taxpayers who have seen their money squandered.

What is shocking is that the district's official investigation into the spending of tens of millions of dollars on portable classrooms in violation of state competitive bidding laws and sound business practice sheds so little light on the problem and offers such meager recommendations.

Noting state bidding law is intended to ``eliminate favoritism, fraud and corruption,'' the LAUSD's quasi-inspector general, Don Mullinax, reported that the staff in the district's Facilities Services Division ignored directives, had minimal assurance they got the best price, and put the district at legal and financial risk.

Mullinax, who lacks full investigatory power to subpoena witnesses or documents, offers no clue as to whether favoritism, fraud or corruption occurred. He doesn't even say if the district overpaid for portable classrooms.

What he did find was that school officials ``piggybacked'' on existing contracts when they suddenly needed hundreds of new classrooms in 1996 because of class-size reduction policies.

Wasting no time but perhaps a lot of taxpayer dollars, they ``ordered, received, and installed portable classrooms without using the competitive bidding process and without properly completing purchasing documents'' and did so without getting emergency school board approval.

The sum total of Mullinax's recommendations: Tell the head of the Facilities Services Division of the ``need to follow state laws'' and district rules in buying portables and set up more rules to ensure there are contracts or purchase orders in place before buying portables.

So much for that potential scandal.

Fat-cat bureaucrats throughout LAUSD were quivering in fear after reading Mullinax's report.

The district's lawyers dismissed the report by saying it was ``somewhat misleading in that the deficiencies noted . . . appear to be more in sequencing rather than ultimate compliance with competitive bidding statutes.''

In other words, after they violated the law intended to prevent favoritism, fraud and corruption and spent all that money, they filled out the paperwork, so no harm, no foul.

And certainly no firing of anyone involved.

The Facilities Services Division staff was even more shameless.

In a formal response, the staff accuses Mullinax of inaccuracies and ``misrepresentations.'' While acknowledging ``some misunderstandings and mistakes'' were made in the past, the memo says that all ended 18 months ago and offers the assurance ``that district policy will be strictly enforced in the future.''

That is good news: Nobody did anything, and they won't do it anymore.

What's not good news is that Mullinax is the sole person responsible for investigating the nearly $200 million Belmont Learning Center scandal.

If this is an example of what the district's chief of audits and special investigations is capable of, they may as well go ahead and finish the nation's costliest and most flammable school and give everyone involved big bonuses.

Just hope nobody lights a match.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jul 11, 1999
Words:500
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