Courtesy photo

The vast majority of Santa Monica schools are in need of repair according to recent data provided to state regulators, but the reality on the ground may not be as dire as the paperwork suggests. 

The Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) Board heard an update to several state-mandated reports last week including a facilities update that said 71 percent of the district’s facilities are not in “good repair.”

School Districts are required to self assess their physical facilities as part of a wide ranging evaluation that also covers topics like teacher assignments, student achievement and professional development. 

For facilities, the system ranks physical assets into four categories, exemplary, good, fair and poor. To be considered “good repair” a building must rank in the exemplary or good category and most local schools scored in the bottom half of the rankings.

“So, yes, the results of our, what is called our FITs inspection or facility inspections, this year is shocking,” said Carey Upton. “And that is not completely our fault.”

He said the system changed this year moving from what Upton called “a rather extensive curve” to a new system with an extremely harsh top end that makes it difficult to compare current scores to the past. 

Upton said the numerical scores provided some context to the otherwise dire ranking. He said an Exemplary is 99 to 100%, a Good is 90 to 98.99% and a Fair is 75 to 89.9. 

He said that with the top score essentially amounting to perfection, the rankings do not reflect much of the improvement that has happened at various campuses recently. At the same time, many of the deficiencies were easily fixed and not necessarily structural such as teachers piling too much material onto shelves or displaying evacuation routes too far away from their intended use. He said district staff are working their way through work orders associated with facility problems with an eye toward better scores next year. 

However, there are significant maintenance problems at several schools.

John Muir Elementary and Santa Monica Alternative School House (SMASH) students are being displaced due to construction associated with repairing mold and water damage on campus. The campus, which previously served about 550 students in Ocean Park, was closed at the end of the 2021-22 school year as the damage was too severe to repair in the course of normal operation. 

The recent bout of wet weather exposed additional water problems at multiple schools. The District reassigned more than $5 million to roof repair after more than 110 leaks emerged in various rain storms. According to the district, 2 percent of the district’s 576 roofs need to be fully replaced while 7.4 percent need repair and restoration. 

At Will Rogers, ceiling tiles have been falling and the remediation process will include removing furniture and materials from every room, removing all lighting, fire alarms, technology and other fixtures attached to the ceiling, abatement and demolition of the old ceiling tiles at an off campus location, installation of a structure to which the new tiles can be attached and finally, installation of the new tiles before everything is then put back in place.

Upton said the various repair projects are the reason he frequently returns to the board with funding requests. 

“But one of the things that I do want to say is that, you know, I think our facilities are actually in better shape and certainly we’ve done a lot of things to make our facilities better and we’re continuing to work on it but we are not where we need to be,” he said. “And this is why I often come and speak to you about the need for additional general fund deferred maintenance dollars. Because not everything can be fixed with our bond.”

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...