Albany’s high school boondoggle

Last fall, a referendum in Albany on building literally the costliest high school on Earth, at $196 million, narrowly failed. Now, a revote is scheduled for Tuesday – low turnout guaranteed — on a new proposal scaled down to “only” $180 million.

Proposed

Proposed

We’re told the bulk of the money will come from the state, so it won’t cost local taxpayers all that much. But already the city’s budget has a big hole, sure to grow much larger because our landfill is almost full, presaging both loss of revenue and higher costs. Can this city afford a Taj Mahal high school?

Existing

Existing

We’re also told the existing school is in bad shape. OK, there are some problems, but I’ve been there, it’s not falling down. Is a building only forty years old really so wrecked that it’s a total loss, and can’t just be fixed up?

And where do they propose building the new one? Same site. Don’t worry, they say, the old one can be demolished while the new one is erected with minimal disruption for students. Yeah, right. Remember Boston’s “big dig?”

We’re told, too, that surely our kids deserve the best facilities we can provide. Yet given the parlous state of education, especially for minority and lower income students, to spend $180 million on a spiffy new building seems a colossal misallocation of resources. Is a dilapidated building the real problem? I don’t think so. I’ve been reading Robert Putnam’s recent book, Our Kids, on the growing class divide between better educated and less educated Americans. He highlights myriad reasons why poor and minority kids finish high school (if they do finish) ill equipped for a hopeful future. But run-down school buildings are never mentioned.

imagesThe $180 million works out to something over $80,000 per existing high school student. Just imagine if that kind of money were spent instead on some sort of intensive program to actually help kids benefit from their education – like hiring a corps of life coaches/mentors/tutors/big brothers?

I know – if the new high school is voted down again, the money won’t instead be spent on things like that. More’s the pity. images-1Just shows the stagnant thinking that pervades the education establishment, that so poorly serves minority and disadvantaged people.

It’s not the building. It’s what happens inside.

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4 Responses to “Albany’s high school boondoggle”

  1. Andy Says:

    Well said.

  2. Pedro Dunn Says:

    Three presidents of my university got into the “create new buildings and they will come” mindset. To sell the bonds, they had to promise a partial pay-back via increased student fees. We now are tied for first place in the “highest fees across the state” category (over $1000 per term), and enrollment is down. The Board of Regents, which picked all three presidents, is unhappy. Far too often, education provides cash for just about anybody but the students.

  3. EriK Says:

    It’s maddening that the election was run incompetently, although not surprising.

  4. Lee Says:

    A significant fraction of $180 million would have to be spent on repairs. While doing the repairs, should we also do some modernization; that is the question. (It’s not a rebuild.)

    The repairs and modernization should keep the building going for decades, so instead of saying $80,000 per student, let us say $2,000 per student per year, most of it coming from the state. We’re going to have to spend some fraction of that on repairs regardless, so let’s say that this ballot initiative costs us (locally plus statewide) about $1,000 per student per year for the modernization parts.

    Would I rather give that $1,000 to each student each year ($5 per school day) to pay for good grades? At the very least, I’d like to have this alternative on the table at discussions.

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