Concrete Mess At Kennedy

School Rips Out New Sidewalks, But Price Is Right

By R.E. Graswich
January 2019

Balancing their budget has become a difficult assignment for administrators in the Sacramento City Unified School District. But city school leaders don’t mess around when it comes to lousy concrete work at Kennedy High School.

Twice in recent months, the district contrived a three-year budget proposal that was short by $66.5 million. When I heard about newly poured concrete being ripped out at Kennedy, I wondered if there was a connection.

Sometimes, a small problem—like poorly installed concrete—reflects larger incompetence, like millions of dollars in deficit spending.

But it turns out Kennedy’s concrete scandal isn’t tied to the school district’s budget troubles. Sometimes, bad concrete is just bad concrete.

The Sacramento County Office of Education flagged the Sac City Unified budget deficit. Many local school districts can’t be trusted to maintain balanced books without oversight. So the state requires county offices to make sure the pluses and minuses equal out. Mountains of taxpayer dollars are at stake.Thankfully, Sac City Unified makes no attempt to hide its imbalance. The school district’s website shows 2018-19 revenue and expenses misaligned by almost $28 million. The question is: why?

The obvious answer—city schools blow more money than they take in—only goes so far. The devil lurks in the details.

Pocket residents, always alert for follies that waste taxpayer dollars, noticed a curious series of expenditures around Kennedy High over the past six months.

They saw workers fence off sections of the campus, rip out old sidewalks, parking and landscaping, and pour hundreds of yards of fresh concrete to improve access and general appearance.

The work was no folly. It was long overdue. Sac City schools communications chief Alex Barrios tells me concrete was replaced in front of the Kennedy campus, on a ramp near the cafeteria and in the gym courtyard. The parking lot was repaired to meet disability access requirements.

But a few months after the concrete was poured, another group of workers showed up, erected fences and began ripping out the brand-new sidewalks.

“Concrete work performed by the subcontractor was rejected as defective,” Barrios says, describing the problems as “missing control joints, uneven surfaces, crooked expansion joints, etc.”

At this point, Sac City Unified entered a world familiar to many homeowners who run into trouble with construction projects. The subcontractor declined to fix the mistakes. Delays ensued. A new subcontractor was hired. At last, removal of the bad concrete and replacement work began.

The good news, Barrios says, is the concrete fix comes at “no cost” to the school district.

Out of curiosity, I dug through the Sac City Unified budget to see where tax dollars were going. I learned Kennedy spent $30,000 at Office Depot for copy paper and supplies, plus another $435.21 for ink. I learned the school board gave $1 million to a law firm for legal advice.

Paper, ink and legal fees don’t explain the budget problems at Sac City Unified. The district’s biggest expense is employees—about 80 percent of the budget. To balance the books, jobs will likely have to be cut.

But it’s nice to know Kennedy has lovely concrete at last.

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