L.A. Unified Schools Chief Shelves Apple Contract After FBI Seizure

Supt. Ramon Cortines said his decision was not based on Monday’s surprise visit from the FBI, who removed 20 boxes of documents related to the controversial iPad project.

by Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times (TNS) / December 3, 2014 0

The morning after the FBI seized documents from the LAUSD related to its expensive, ill-fated iPad project, Supt. Ramon C. Cortines has shelved the contract once meant to provide the Apple devices to all students, teachers and campus administrators.

Cortines said his decision was not based on Monday’s surprise visit from FBI agents, who removed 20 boxes of documents related to the controversial iPad project from district headquarters. The FBI seizure was part of the first law-enforcement investigation of the $1.3-billion technology effort.

The superintendent’s move completes an action begun by predecessor John Deasy but never fully carried out. In August, Deasy announced a suspension of purchases under the contract with Apple after disclosures that he and his top deputy had close ties to executives at the technology giant, maker of the iPad, and Pearson, the company providing the curriculum on the devices. He said at the time that the suspension was related to changes in the technology marketplace and not to the disclosures. Deasy has denied any wrongdoing.

But the contract suspension never fully went into effect, and, as recently as Monday, the Los Angeles Unified School District was still planning on spending millions of dollars under the contract with Apple.

“We’re not going to use the original iPad contract anymore,” Cortines said Tuesday. “I think there have been too many innuendos, rumors, etc., and based on my reading of a great deal of material over Thanksgiving, I came to this conclusion.

"As CEO and steward of a billion-dollar operation, I have to make sure things are done properly so they are not questioned.”

Cortines disclosed his latest move in an interview with the Los Angeles Times after informing the Board of Education in a previously scheduled closed-door session Tuesday.

The iPads-for-all project was a signature initiative of Deasy, who resigned under pressure in October. The project has been funded mostly through voter-approved, school-construction bonds.

Deasy readily acknowledged that the project was an expensive draw from limited bond funds. But he said there was no other way to pay for what he called a civil rights imperative — to provide low-income students equal access to technology in the nation's second-largest school system.

The L.A. Unified Board of Education approved the iPad contract without opposition in June 2013.

The FBI seizure of documents came as the L.A. schools inspector general, Ken Bramlett, continued his inquiry into the events leading up to the agreement, which was expected to expand to about $500 million for the devices and curriculum -- and another $800 million for staffing, improved broadband and other costs -- as the iPad program rolled out across the sprawling school system.

The results of a previous, confidential internal district investigation were reviewed by the L.A. County district attorney’s office, which declined to file charges.

A public report on the project, prepared by board member Monica Ratliff, concluded that there were problems with how the bidding process was carried out and, later, with how the project was managed.

The initial rollout last year in the iPad project, at 47 schools, encountered numerous problems. Students deleted a security filter so they could freely browse the Internet; many teachers felt poorly prepared to use the devices. Within months, the board decided to move more slowly, while also trying out other devices and curricula.

Cortines’ latest decision will delay how soon 27 schools can receive iPads that were authorized last year. If those schools want devices before next fall, they could opt instead to choose Chromebooks, which are available under a different contract.

©2014 the Los Angeles Times