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For LAUSD, more Chromebooks, iPads means more confusion

Vanessa Romo | November 25, 2014

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la-1418303-0426-me-0428-lopez-ipads1-mam-jpg-20130426Announcing the next phase of the digital device program to buy more iPads and Chromebooks was the easy part. Carrying it out is another issue.

While LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines was pretty clear on how he expected it to proceed, others in the district are not so sure.

The district’s Chief Facilities Director says the choice of devices might not be so wide as Cortines suggested, and at least one board member is uncertain how it will all play out.

Last week Cortines gave the go-ahead to spend capital improvement funds to outfit 27 schools with tablet devices and 21 schools with laptops — the so-called Phase 2B. The so-called Phase 2A authorized devices for 11 schools.

In a written statement, Cortines said school principals “will be key in determining which educational tools are best for their school communities” and added that this round would include “more options than previous phases.”

But Mark Hovatter, the facilities director whose department oversees the procurement of devices, says school leaders will only have two choices: iPads pre-loaded with Pearson curriculum or Chromebooks with content developed by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

“Those are the only two that are within the budget that the board has authorized,” Hovatter told LA School Report. “They already approved Phase 2B under that contract.”

The board approved expanding the iPad program in January, allocating $114 million to the project. Under the existing contract the price tag on each Apple tablet is about $780 with all the bells and whistles, including a nearly indestructible protective case and keyboard. A Chromebook is about $100 dollars cheaper.

But how can iPads be part of the deal if the district’s contract with Apple was halted by former superintendent John Deasy?

Never happened, said Hovatter.

“There was never any cancellation of a contract, and the contract was never suspended,” he said. “We just made the determination not to place an order against that contract.”

That is a difficult position for board member Steve Zimmer to square. “It was absolutely cancelled,” he told LA School Report.

In August, Deasy said he was halting the iPad program and the corresponding deal with Apple and Pearson, amid questions about the bidding process.

At the time, Deasy told the school board, “Moving forward, we will no longer utilize our current contract with Apple Inc.…Not only will this decision enable us to take advantage of an ever-changing marketplace and technology.”

For Zimmer, Deasy’s actions indisputably put an end to the deal with the companies. Furthermore, Zimmer added, “the resumption of the iPad contract, as it was, will never get through the Board of Education.”

Beyond that, Zimmer says he doesn’t believe the Pearson curriculum actually exists.

“Until I have it in front of me, until I see it demonstrated with a real child at every grade level, then the Pearson curriculum does not exist,” he said. “I have never seen it. I have never held it. I have never seen a child use it.”

But Hovatter contends that without any action by the board, the contract remains in place.

“The board never made the decision not to move forward, it was the [former] Superintendent who made that decision,” he said.

“If there had been a board action that had directed us not to move forward then of course, we would have to go back to the board” for approval to continue under the existing contracts, he added.

In other words, Cortines is not required to return to the board for another round of approval. That means Zimmer, other board members, or principals and teachers who had hoped for a better deal or different type of device, will have to wait a little longer.

The district intends to re-open the bidding process to new vendors and curriculum developers for Phase 3 of the one-to-one program. A timeline for that has yet to be determined.

The Common Core Technology Project team is scheduled to meet on Monday to discuss the rollout and set a timeline for the project.

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