Book Wars: Sunday on News Extra

KNBC will be airing a half-hour investigative piece on Sunday night at 11:30 ("NBC4 Extra") that explores what appears to be a breakdown in LAUSD oversight of an ambitious library renovation program, called Wonder of Reading.

Over a twelve-year period, this evident implosion described by our sources and documented in LAUSD’s own files led to:

  • Installation of library furnishings characterized as “unsafe” even by Wonder of Reading and District officials;
  • Often unaccountable spending, with a written acknowledgement by the Distract that it makes no effort to track the work and expenditures of subcontractors on such projects;
  • LAUSD’s loss of half of the contract bid documents for the existing 170-plus WOR projects,
  • Alleged intimidation of contractors;
  • Alleged rigged contract bidding, and
  • Alleged kickback exchanges among contractors and subcontractors who sources indicate were essentially left to oversee themselves.

A forensic accountant who examined many of the 5,000 internal LAUSD documents used in preparing this broadcast, calls this pattern of management and execution a “perfect storm” of possibly corrupting influences.

Equally provocative: Constance Rice of the LAUSD Citizen’s Construction-Bond Oversight Committee extols the autonomy of the LAUSD Facilities Division which allowed this reported lapse in oversight to occur. Moreover, a consultant to the Bond Committee, which, by its own account, has given little attention to bond-funded Wonder of Reading work, concedes that the “problem with the retention and filing of [Wonder of Reading] contract files” by LAUSD “may extend to non-WOR projects.”

The Sunday broadcast grows out of an eighteen-month investigation and an introductory report last spring and is based on more than 5,000 documents accessed through the California Public Records Act. It also draws on the exclusive first-hand testimony of subcontractors who worked on the Wonder of Reading franchise, including one who claims to have paid kickbacks to the WOR’s designated “construction manager,” provided free services to LAUSD officials, and to have participated in rigged contract bidding with the knowledge of district officials.

The issues highlighted in the broadcast are all the more newsworthy because LAUSD touts Wonder of Reading, which requires cost-sharing by the district and partner schools, as a model program and has given it preferential public billing over other programs that cost taxpayers nothing.

The broadcast raises the larger question: Can LAUSD be trusted to exercise proper oversight over such high-end projects in this time of fiscal crisis?

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