A committee that oversees school bond spending has rejected major portions of a proposal to expand the use of iPads in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Officials had sought the panel's approval for $135 million in spending. Instead, the committee Wednesday authorized $45 million. The panel failed to approve plans to provide iPads to all teachers and school administrators. And it reduced the number of iPads requested for students.
The decision creates new complications in the $1-billion effort to provide tablets to every student and teacher in the nation's second-largest school system.
The iPads received rave reviews from some teachers, students and administrators, but the first rollout at 47 schools has been plagued by problems, including students deleting security filters so they can browse the Internet freely. In response, officials banned the use of the iPads outside of school.
Early next month, the Board of Education will have the final say on the next phase; the committee's 9-4 vote is advisory. In the past, however, Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy has been unwilling to oppose the School Construction Bond Citizens' Oversight Committee.
The panel includes representatives of the mayor, the city controller, charter schools, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the California Tax Reform Assn., parents and construction trades. It was established to heighten confidence that voter-approved bonds, which are repaid by property taxes, would be spent wisely.
The panel endorsed providing 24,541 tablets at 38 schools — viewing it as an extended trial. The committee also favored testing laptops at seven high schools as a possible iPad alternative for older students. That proposal came out of a school board meeting last week.
But the panel rejected 28,385 iPads for teachers and administrators across the school system.
That spending would be premature given that some schools may not receive tablets for close to three years under a slower distribution schedule, committee members said. And the full program might not go forward in its current form, they said.
Program head Bernadette Lucas disagreed, saying that teachers could immediately find excellent uses for the devices.
The oversight committee also challenged the district's math on how many iPads are needed for students to take new state standardized tests in the spring. Committee Chairman Stephen English said he used a formula provided by the district and reached a number of iPads much lower than what officials were requesting.
Officials quickly countered that the formula didn't take all factors into account when having to test more than 380,000 students.
"You might be able to explain, but the formula you put in here doesn't do it," English said. "Give us the right formula."
In an interview, committee member Scott Folsom also noted that the district failed to account for older computers that could be used for the tests.
In all, the committee voted to put nearly 100,000 iPad purchases on hold, but pledged to reconsider when the district provided more detailed information.
The same held for the purchase of keyboards, which are required for students to take the new state tests on computers.
"What is the rush? Why are we rushing on to spend $1 billion of taxpayer money" without evidence of the academic benefit, member Stuart Magruder said. "I am frustrated with the reliance on anecdotal evidence in place of clear research."
But district chief strategy officer Matt Hill insisted that time is genuinely an issue related to testing.
The district is trying to take an inventory of older computers, but now lacks that information, Hill said in an interview. And new iPads would need to be ordered in early December to be in place for testing, Hill said. The bond committee is not scheduled to meet again until Dec. 18.
"I don't know how we can get it to schools in time," he said. "My job is to help lower the stress level at schools."
Hill added that he would recommend bringing the original $135-million plan to the school board.
Hill also clarified one issue that arose earlier in the week. On Tuesday, officials revealed that the license to use the curriculum on the iPads expires in three years. Hill said Wednesday that the three-year clock starts when the iPads are purchased, not from the date of the original contract. The iPads are being bought in phases.
Committee member Maria Cabildo agreed with L.A. Unified officials who have said the district's low-income students deserve and need high-grade technology as quickly as possible.
She recounted how her son developed a love of history by exploring the topic on his iPad.
"That is a privilege available to middle-class children," Cabildo said. "I don't think a child's income should be a barrier."
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