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LAUSD board sees ‘significant exposure’ from FBI’s iPad probe

Craig Clough | August 31, 2015

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FBI logoEver since the FBI seized documents in December related to LA Unified’s controversial iPad program, there have been no public updates on the case, but now it appears that the LA Unified school board and its legal department see trouble coming.

It is just a single line in the agenda for tomorrow’s closed board meeting, but it may speak volumes.

Described as “anticipated litigation,” the board will be discussing possible ramifications of the FBI probe, arising out of state law that reads, “A point has been reached where, in the opinion of the legislative body of the local agency on the advice of its legal counsel, based on existing facts and circumstances, there is a significant exposure to litigation against the local agency.”

The document seizure happened as the result of a federal grand jury subpoena looking into potential bid rigging in the district’s $1.3 billion Common Core Technology Program, which sought to get a computer tablet in the hands of every student and teacher in the district.

Due to the secrecy laws surrounding federal grand juries, little has been known about the nature of the investigation since the seizure. But the board’s closed meeting agenda is the first indication that a grand jury might have identified legal problems with how the district conducted the bid process and, as a result, that the district might face legal action. No indictments have been brought in the case, and federal law requires that details of the grand jury investigations remain sealed unless one is brought.

LA Unified’s Director of Communications Shannon Haber said under the advisement of district General Counsel David Holmquist, she cannot comment on the closed session. Laura Eimiller, spokesperson for the FBI’s Los Angeles Division, did not return a call seeking comment.

The ambitious Common Core Technology Project was the brainchild of former Superintendent John Deasy, but it came under severe scrutiny when the public release of emails last August revealed that Deasy and a key underling, Jaime Aquino, had a high level of communication with the two companies that ultimately won the bid, Apple and Pearson.

That led to questions about whether Apple and Pearson had an inside track to win the contracts. Deasy and Aquino have always maintained that the bidding process was conducted fairly, with preference given to no one.

After the emails were revealed, Deasy cancelled the contract with Apple and Pearson and said he was going to reopen the bidding process to keep the program alive. With the program’s pilot and early rollout experiencing severe technical and logistical problems, public scrutiny of the program increased, and Deasy resigned in October.

Less than two months after Ramon Cortines was hired as Deasy’s replacement, the FBI seized at least 20 boxes of files and district officials confirmed they were the result of a federal grand jury probe. Cortines cancelled the Common Core Technology Project shortly after and publicly declared that the district could not afford any 1-to-1 tablet program.

Other board meeting notes

The board is technically holding two separate closed sessions tomorrow, with one dedicated to finding a new superintendent and the other for discussions over the FBI case and other legal issues, as well as some personnel and student discipline issues. The search for a new superintendent will also be part of the open meeting, scheduled to start at 1 p.m.

For the board’s regular public meeting, there are no major resolutions scheduled to come up for a vote. Board member Mónica García is bringing several resolutions forward for the district to recognize Latino Heritage Month, Student Attendance Month, National Coming Out Day and College Awareness Month.

There will also be several public hearings regarding charter school petitions.

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