The Los Angeles Unified school board got the new year off to a good start last week by voting to hold an election for the seat left vacant by the unexpected death of Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte. On Tuesday, it should keep the momentum going by approving the funding for the next, limited purchase of iPads so that all students can take the new state standardized tests on them this spring.
The board seemed in danger of a stalemate last week, with three members favoring an election to fill LaMotte's District 1 seat, two preferring to appoint her successor and Steve Zimmer undecided. Had the vote split down the middle, there would have been yet another delay on an important issue that already had been put off in December, adding to a pile of uncompleted district business. Zimmer made the right choice when he voted to allow an election to take place in June. This will give voters the opportunity to select the board member they feel best represents them, while giving candidates time to campaign for the job.
The downside is that it will be about six months before someone takes the seat. So Zimmer had the good idea of appointing an interim board member. Though it might not be legally possible to appoint someone with temporary voting powers, the board could and should appoint someone who is respected in the community and can act as a voice for schools and voters there, as long as he or she agrees not to run for the seat.
On Tuesday, the board faces an even thornier decision: What to do about the problematic iPad rollout, for which the district originally planned to buy more than 600,000 tablets at a cost of half a billion dollars. The board is understandably less enthusiastic about the program now than when it approved the first phase of the rollout, after multiple missteps and questions about whether the district got a good deal on the iPads and on the bundled curriculum software, which was purchased before it had even been fully written.
But this much the board must accomplish without further delay: approve the purchase of enough devices — at least 25,000 — so that students, sharing them, can take the new Common Core tests on them this spring. The purchase should include a mix of iPads and laptops so that the district can study the advantages of each. Students and teachers need time to train on and become familiar with the equipment for the tests, which are designed to be taken by computer. There are two ways for the district's technology effort to fail: by moving too quickly, as L.A. Unified did at first, and by never moving at all, as it is in danger of doing now.