$3.6 billion. That’s the amount of money that the Los Angeles Unified School District, the 2nd largest in the country and largest in the state of California is spending on Lease-Leaseback projects. Nothing speaks louder in terms of legitimacy than the largest district in the state committing billions in taxpayer dollars to Lease-Leaseback as an effective, financially viable means of enhancing school facilities.
This is the one thing that I think should be abundantly clear to everyone in this state - Lease-Leaseback (CA Education Code, Section 17406) is a state-approved facilities improvement process that gives school districts the necessary flexibility to select contractors based on factors other than price alone and allows districts to focus on their qualifications, experience and past performance on projects similar in type and scope, etc. It eliminates the need to conduct a traditional hard bid process for construction projects, which can often slow progress in making facilities upgrades. That’s it. The long and short of it.
Fresno Unified has used the process to make improvements to our facilities, because our students deserve to be educated in safe, up-to-date school environments. I think it would be pretty tough to find a parent or guardian who’d say otherwise. Will Fresno Unified continue to award contracts through a hard bid process? Absolutely, when it makes the most sense to do so.
But, Lease-Leaseback allows us to choose high-quality, local contractors so we can spend more of our time on our chief concern, educating 73,000+ students here in the Central Valley. That’s why I became an educator 25 years ago, first as a teacher, then an administrator, and it is why I remain an educator, today. To do my own part to help our youth look towards a brighter future. I don’t have any interest in backroom deals or conspiracies -- just a commitment to our students, and I mean ALL students, and the promise we make to their parents when they entrust them to us each day.
Districts in Sacramento, Torrance, and throughout Los Angeles and San Diego Counties and more, including our neighboring school districts, have successfully improved their facilities using Lease-Leaseback. Fresno Unified has spent just over $225 million on 25 Lease-Leaseback projects and I don’t think any of the students, teachers or staff in those buildings, many of which were falling apart, would say it hasn’t been worth it.
This is a district that serves a population with tremendous needs. Nearly 90% of our students are living in disadvantaged circumstances and, for many, the nearly 8 hours they spend at school account for the only time they feel safe and comfortable each day. The work that we’ve done in less than five years to build new school facilities, and make vital enhancements to others, has created a safer, more modern experience for them and this is something this entire city should be proud of! We’re doing what many cities could only hope to do for a population with so much need.
In recent weeks, we have experienced an outpouring of support in the form of letters from state-wide organizations like California Association of School Business Officials and Coalition for Adequate School Housing, as well as other organizations and school districts affected by Lease-Leaseback scrutiny. The impassioned way in which they state their support for our appeal to the California Supreme Court in Davis v. Fresno Unified School District is very encouraging. My wish is for the scrutiny to lead to better informed stakeholders as we further our commitment to transparency.
A few weeks ago, we created a space on the Fresno Unified website specifically to address questions or concerns regarding our use of Lease-Leaseback. I encourage everyone to visit www.fresnounified.org for a more detailed outline of all of our Lease-Leaseback projects. Below you’ll find the letters of support I referred to earlier.
We don’t have anything to hide and we are excited about the future of this district. Our graduation rate has grown by more than 10% in recent years to just at 80% and more of our students are attending college than ever before. Those are major accomplishments for this city and it’s something we should all be celebrating -- shared success that will benefit this whole region -- instead of allowing baseless distractions to derail our focus from our chief stakeholders, the students.
Sincerely,Michael Hanson Superintendent