LA Unified board OKs more iPads, caretaker for vacancy
Vanessa Romo | January 14, 2014
The LA Unified School Board made two major decisions today that will go a long way toward shaping the months ahead.
The six members green-lighted Phase 2 of the iPad plan, ensuring enough tablets for standardized testing in the Spring, and they approved the appointment of a non-voting representative to serve District 1 until later in the year.
In a unanimous vote on the iPads, the board put into action essentially the same plan that was before them two months ago. This next phase will bring the tablets to 38 new campuses, provide high school students at seven schools with a laptop, acquire keyboards for Phase 1 and 2 schools and equip all schools with enough iPads for all students to take the Smarter Balanced field test in the spring. The cost is estimated to be $115 million.
The decision went against the advice of the Bond Oversight Committee, which recommended that the board limit the number of devices it procures through the end of the year.
“I suggest we be very careful about buying more than we need,” , chair of the BOC, cautioned the board.
A study by the oversight committee had determined the district would need 38,535 tablets to implement the standardized test, not 67,500 as the district had sought.
English explained this was due to a change by the state to shorten the test by half.
“The difference between buying 37,000 and 67,000 in interest alone for one year is half a million dollars,” he said.
But in approving the measure the board eliminated language specifying a cap. Instead, as board member Tamar Galatzan said, “We are taking out the conclusion of how many we are buying and are asking the staff to be as diligent as possible to purchase the fewest number of devices it can to ensure students will succeed.”
One bright spot in the iPad discussion — and over which there was no debate — came from Superintendent John Deasy. After numerous efforts to improve the contract with Apple, he got assurances from the company that no matter when the district buys the iPads, Apple will sell it the latest version.
The vote to find a caretaker for the District 1 seat left vacant by the death of Marguerite LaMotte came with high drama.
In their initial vote, the members deadlocked at 3-3, effectively killing a plan from Steve Zimmer that would create a committee to define the job description, set an application process and identify one or more candidates to be appointed to the position.
But minutes later, Bennett Kayser, who had voted against it, interrupted a discussion that had begun on something else to say he was changing his mind. That made for a 4-2 vote to get a non-voting person into the seat by March 4, a date beyond the filing deadline for the June 3 primary election for a permanent – and voting – interim.
Zimmer, who was appointed chairman of the new committee, said the March date was selected to take politics out of the caretaker selection process.
The winner of the primary – or an Aug. 12 runoff if it’s necessary – will serve out LaMotte’s term, which ends June 30, 2015.
The most contentious part of the debate leading to the first vote focused on whether the caretaker would have the same voting rights as the other six members.
Board President Richard Vladovic made it clear that the person named would not. He said the district had received six legal opinions, including one from the district’s own legal counsel, “and they all say the same thing,” that a temporary, non-elected person sitting in a board chair is legally barred from voting.
“There’s no ambiguity from any of the legal opinions we’ve received,” he said.
Perhaps ironically, Kayser was part of a commission years ago that wrote the LA City Charter that set the rules deny caretaker appointments a vote once a special election to fill a vacancy has been scheduled.
In the first vote, he joined Monica Garcia and Monica Ratliff in opposing the measure, with Vladovic, Galatzan and Zimmer, voting in favor. He changed his position, he said, to give District 1 constituents at least a symbolic presence on the board.
“It seems to me,” he said, suggesting the Charter is ill-serving the school district, “this is a perfect example of why we should have an appointed representative take the seat.”