Looking for an expensive piece of real-estate? Forget New York City. Think California instead, where taxpayers spent nearly $14,000 per studentin 2008…on the Los Angeles Unified School District (Note: the most recent state education data show that figure’s now more than $16,000).

So what are taxpayers and students getting for all that money? The country’s most expensive schools, according to the Los Angeles Times, but certainly not the best performing ones. At LAUSD less than half of all students score proficient on the annual state assessment in English and math. And nine out of 10 the district’s high school students don’t test college-ready in those subjects.

LAUSD may not be helping students learn to read or add, but district bureaucrats did manage to turn a $50-million school construction project into a 20-year, $578-million boondoggle-including a “$232-million arts high school downtown. It doesn’t have a formal name or a final enrollment plan, and it’s on its second principal in two years. But it does have floor-to-ceiling windows, an outdoor atrium and three dance studios with sprung maple flooring,” according to the Times’ Sandy Banks, who rightly notes:

Urban schools don’t need more trendy reforms or flashy buildings. They need strong, well-trained teachers. Los Angeles Unified needs to get serious about finding, courting and keeping them. That will mean paying higher salaries to good teachers willing to work in more challenging communities, just as the district does to attract math and science teachers. Call it “incentivizing,” as the education experts do, or “combat pay,” as they do in the trenches. It’s more than dangling money to lure teachers in. It’s a way to reward the very best teachers, financially and professionally…Maybe all these shiny new buildings will attract teachers, what with their underground parking, lesson-preparation centers and lunchrooms with stone ovens for making pizza.

Maybe parking garages and pizza kitchens aren’t such a great turn-around plan after all-but let’s hope LAUSD officials don’t go back to the drawing board. With a $19 billion budget gap, California can’t afford any more bright ideas from the educrats.