Home » LA Unified School District Contracting Under Fire Again as Contracts Cancelled
Los Angeles Unified School District is once again wrestling with its construction contracting and project delivery procedures. LAUSD canceled a pair of contracts in its $19.2-billion construction program in November when the LAUSD board citied violation of a no-subcontractor rule.
One contract was for $3.7 million to Consilia LLC for construction planning and the other for $90,000 to Kathi Littmann, former LAUSD chief of school construction for education specifications work. Littmann says staff told her that the contract had been awarded, cancelled and put back in place before LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines stopped it for good. Littmann is now president of City Prep Education consulting and charter management in Los Angeles. She won Engineering News-Record’s 2003 ENR Award of Excellence for her work at LAUSD before she left in 2002. She sees the controversy as a bad sign for the school’s contracting environment.
“It’s just like 1999 [when Littmann started in the midst of a scandal over an $87-million high school being built on a toxic site]. There is no trust; the [school] board doesn’t understand the process and is interfering in contracting,” Littmann said. “It’s amazing how quickly it all unraveled.”
Littmann also expressed concerns that the board is attempting to shift risk to outside contractors. “That requires a sophisticated facilities manager, but too many of the experienced people are now gone,” Littmann said.
LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines saw the confusion over the contracts as a miscommunication during a transition in the construction process. He explained that as the construction process is slowing down and the district is dealing with budget issues. The board wanted to emphasize using employees rather than contractors, he says, and made a no-subcontractors rule. “We didn’t do a very good job communicating board policy about not allowing subcontractors so the people who let the contracts were not aware of it,” Cortines said. “The contracts weren’t illegal, but they didn’t follow policy.”
Cortinez emphasized that LAUSD still needs experienced contractors. “We just need to do it the right way,” he said.
The subcontractor debate was not the first time in 2010 that LAUSD came under scrutiny for contracting practices. In October, Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel released the first-ever audit of LAUSD’s construction program at the request of Cortines. The auditors’ report found that from 2002 to 2005, LAUSD’s policies and oversight for how contractors was selected were “weak.” The program led to potential conflicts of interest, including 225 instances where a regional director sat on a panel that selected the person’s employer as a contractor. However, it noted that from 2006 on, the district had “undergone a dramatic improvement and has done a good job ensuring the integrity of the selection process.”
A joint venture of Skanska, Corman Kokosing Construction Co. and McLean Contracting Co. is moving toward an early 2020 construction start for a $463-million replacement for a 79-year-old bridge across the Potomac River, south of Washington, D.C.