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Cortines decision on bond money for iPads: a policy u-turn?

Vanessa Romo | November 24, 2014

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Superintendent Ray Cortines

Superintendent Ray Cortines

A decision by LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines to proceed with the next phase of the district’s controversial iPad program appears to contradict statements he made a month ago, opposing the use of construction bond money to pay for devices pre-loaded with curriculum.

Three days ago, Cortines gave the go-ahead to spend capital improvement funds to outfit another 27 schools with tablet devices and 21 campuses with laptops.

Tom Waldman, a spokesman for the school board, said Cortines is not in the office this week and would be unavailable to clarify any apparent discrepancy.

In January, months before Cortines replaced former Superintendent John Deasy, the school board unanimously approved $114 million to expand the program. But ever since Cortines took the reins last month he has come out swinging against idea of using bond dollars for the Pearson software that the board approved for the iPads bought from Apple.

He went so far as calling it “stealing.”

On his first week on the job he issued a statement on the subject saying, “I still need to meet with the Common Core Technology Project team to learn more about the plans in place but I think we will need to identify alternative sources to fund the curriculum ongoing.”

He also told the LA Times, “I don’t believe the curriculum should be paid for with bond funds, period.”

But in the latest statement on the new round of purchases he wrote, “Our students deserve the best tools available to meet the requirements to be successful in the 21st century workforce…Without the appropriate tools, they will be disadvantaged compared to their peers across the entire nation.”

Board Member Monica Ratliff, who chairs the Common Core Technology Project Committee, and has been a strong critic of iPads and the Pearson curriculum, also declined to respond. Her chief of staff said she would have no comment “at this time.”

Under the new round of purchases — officially called phase 2B – principals at each school will have “more options” and won’t have to settle for iPads if they prefer an alternative, according to the district. But so far, the district has not opened the bidding process to any new vendors or curriculum developers.

Another complication: Deasy cancelled the contract with Apple and Pearson when he came under fire for communications with company officials before the procurement period. It is unclear if Cortines is now un-cancelling the cancellation. If he has, the district will be paying for Pearson curriculum, which is scheduled for completion at the end of the month,

Although the full timeline for implementation of the latest phase has yet to be determined, Cortines says students will have the new devices by February.

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