Saturday, October 10, 2009

Insiders expand their control to school construction division in LAUSD, causing award-winning facilities department to lose its chief

L.A. schools construction chief resigns

Guy Mehula, 56, who had been with the program since 2002, quit after an apparent power struggle with district leadership. James Sohn is named interim facilities chief.
By Seema Mehta
September 29, 2009

Guy Mehula, the highly regarded head of the Los Angeles Unified School District's massive school construction program, has resigned after an apparent power struggle with district leadership.

In a brief letter to subordinates Monday, Mehula gave no hint of discord, painting his departure as an opportunity to search for new challenges. "The work that we have done together and the investments we have made in our schools, community, and economy are significant," he wrote.

But critics say Mehula's resignation is fallout from a growing rift between his facilities services division and district headquarters, prompted by policy changes made by Supt. Ramon C. Cortines that threaten to dismantle the award-winning division.

"There's an old saying: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it,' " said Thomas A. Rubin, a consultant to the district's bond oversight committee, which is overseeing expenditure of more than $20 billion in voter-approved school construction and modernization funds. "This ain't broke. It's not perfect, but it is almost without any doubt whatsoever the best thing the district has done in decades."

For many years, the facilities division had been at the center of significant turmoil, cost overruns and other problems, most notably the construction of the Belmont Learning Complex atop an oil field. The project ended up taking 15 years and costing more than $400 million. About a decade ago, after the Belmont furor, there was a push to create a quasi-independent facilities division that was insulated from district politics and composed of professional construction managers instead of district insiders...

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