LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles Unified School District may slow its proposed bond-financed $1 billion roll-out of iPads to every student following missteps in the program's first phase.
The board could vote Nov. 12 on a resolution introduced at Tuesday's meeting by Board Member Monica Ratliff that would postpone further phases of the program until 2016. The resolution would limit the roll-out to the tablet computers already dispersed during Phase One for school year 2013-14 while an evaluator reviews the program. Ratliff also wants the district to consider whether it would be better to equip high school students with laptops instead of tablets.
Superintendent John Deasy already proposed in mid-October extending the completion deadline by one year, to December 2015.
In arguing against delaying the program, Board Member Monica Garcia volunteered her second district for the second phase.
"Let's embrace change," Garcia said. "In District 2, I have 32 schools ready to go."
Garcia said the district should fix the problems and move forward as quickly as possible.
What Jaime Aquino, deputy superintendent of instruction, referred to as necessary and expected "tweaks" in the first phase during a day-long presentation to school board members has raised a lot of questions for board members.
The roll-out has been overshadowed by reports of 340 students at three schools defeating the devices' security firewalls to access social media even though the school district quickly adopted a policy restricting students from taking the devices home.
Questions also have been raised about the $768 per device cost paid by the school district that did not include keyboards, which district officials plan to contract for separately at an anticipated cost between $9.4 million and $14.1 million, according to a presentation from Matt Hill, chief strategy officer in the office of the superintendent.
The school district used cash to purchase $50 million in iPads, software and technical support from Apple and educational software provider Pearson in a contract approved by the school board on June 19.
The contract represents the first phase in a multi-year project expected to cost $400 million for the devices and eventually provide iPads for students at the district's 786 K-12 schools. An additional $366 million will fund substantial infrastructure upgrades needed to use the devices. Other costs bringing the program total to $1.04 billion includes $63 million in staffing support.
The district had planned to issue $678 million in bonds next year using up the remaining capacity under voter-approved Measure R and Y, according to district officials. The district still has $7 billion in bonding capacity under Measure Q as well.
Union officials questioned the use of bonds approved by voters to build and modernize schools to purchase iPads.
"If voters had known they were going to buy iPads would they have approved the bonds?" asked David Lyell, secretary of United Teachers Los Angeles, in an interview. "We are not opposed to technology, but this is an issue of priority."
The district's teachers had been forced to take furloughs over the past three years and have not had raises in seven years, Lyell said.
There are costs from this program that will impact the general fund, he said.
Hill said in his presentation that iPads were not mentioned in the bond measures, because they didn't exist when the most recent bond, Measure Q, passed in 2007, but the purchase of technological equipment for the schools was included as part of planned modernization.
Although board members peppered staffers with questions about the programs and proposed modifications each one also voiced support for providing all the students with tablets - or laptops.
"It's really important that the board is with the school district on this," Ratliff said. "I don't encounter many people out there who are opposed to providing the access to technology. Parents believe in this - they just want it be done right."
While Board Member Steven Zimmer intends to ask "substantive questions," about the roll out, he also said he is "deeply committed to making sure this happens."