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LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy told members of the school board yesterday that he is halting the district’s contract with Apple, Inc., effectively ending his grand plan to put an iPad in the hands of every district student.
Following the disclosure of emails that suggest he and aides had tailored the bid process to favor Apple and the software maker, Pearson, when the district was seeking proposals for digital devices, Deasy said the district would reopen the bidding to take advantage of a changing marketplace and student needs.
In his letter to board members, who are meeting today, Deasy said “Moving forward, we will no longer utilize our current contract with Apple Inc.” He explained the decision in adding, “Not only will this decision enable us to take advantage of an ever-changing marketplace and technology advances, it will also give us time to take into account concerns raised surrounding the CCTP and receive new information from the California Department of Education regarding assessments.”
CCTP stands for Common Core Technology Project, the district’s over-arching plan to supply and distribute digital devices to students. A committee headed by board member Monica Ratliff was appointed last year to oversee its implementation. It was after her draft report leaked was to media outlets last week that emails were disclosed, showing that Deasy and his deputy at the time, Jaime Aquino, exchanged ideas that appeared to some that the district was rigging the process to favor Apple and Pearson.
The original plan was for the devices to be rolled out in phases as part of a $1 billion spend. By his action yesterday, it will go no further than iPads delivered to 52 schools and laptops to 18,000 students under the existing contract, he told the members.
Under a new opening bidding procress, he said, the district “will be re-visiting the criteria on which original specifications were based, as well as review vendor responses and student feedback to the laptop pilot. We expect our current contractor and their subcontractor to participate in the upcoming (request for proposal).” Apple and Pearson can participate, he said.
Deasy has always insisted that the original bidding process was carried out with no improprieties, assertions supported by investigations conducted by the district’s inspector general and the LA County District Attorney. Still, problems and changes along the way raised serious questions about whether district officials thought the process through. For example, students figured out how to bypass safeguards to surf the Internet. And Ratliff, a former teacher, pushed for giving high school students laptops, rather than iPads, as a device more suited to the kind of academic work they needed to perform.
Neither of the two investigations covered the months before the bidding process that were described in the emails, a new controversy almost certain to spur one or more board members to seek yet another probe into the bidding.
But the biggest question now may be: Can Deasy survive this latest episode, which has drawn the ire of persistent critics, including the teachers union, UTLA, which has complained from the beginning that the district was squandering an enormous amount of money for technology at the expense of teachers who haven’t had raises in seven years.
The union has also led the charge of criticism against Deasy in recent days for the rollout of another computer-based system, the student progress tracking system known as MiSiS, which has disrupted the start of the school year for thousands of students by sending them to the wrong — or no — classes.
With district and union negotiators now discussing a new labor contract, UTLA has not missed a chance to excoriate Deasy for any perceived misstep.
Even after the Los Angeles Times printed an incomplete account of Deasy’s action last night, the union issued a statement saying, “John Deasy needs to publicly explain his role in awarding the iPad contract to Apple and the curriculum contract to Pearson. Deasy reportedly informed the school board that he is canceling the program that is crumbling around him . . . The superintendent does not get to just say, “never mind’ after all the problems the iPad rollout caused this district.”
While union criticism of the a reform-minded superintendent is business-as-usual, the union position — starting today — takes on greater influence because of the swearing in on a new board member. George McKenna, who won the election to replace Marguerite LaMotte for the District 1 seat, received substantial backing from the union during the campaign.
His membership now gives the pro-union forces on the board greater proximity to the four votes needed to carry any action, including the continued employment of Deasy, whose status is reviewed by the board monthly. As an at-will employee of the district, Deasy can be fired at any time.
Deasy’s letter to the board indicates that a new bidding process will continue the effort to bring technology to district students, many of whom would have no other access to a digital device.
The biggest question before the board now may be: Will Deasy continue with it.
*Clarifies decision on Apple contract.