An advisory panel overseeing Los Angeles Unified's iPad project signed off Wednesday on a $45 million request to expand the technology program to 45 more schools, but it rejected plans to spend $90 million on tablets for every principal and teacher in the district and for students who need to take online state tests next spring.
The Bond Oversight Committee debated three hours before voting 9-4 to recommend that the school board approve buying about 24,500 iPads for kids at 38 schools across LAUSD, plus laptops for students and teachers at seven yet-to-be determined high schools.
But the panel had serious questions about the rest of the plan, which was worked out last week by Superintendent John Deasy and the school board as they wrestled over how to proceed with the second phase of LAUSD's $1 billion technology project.
Committee members complained that the district's numbers were missing, fuzzy or just didn't add up. They voiced concerns about the contract with Apple, the legality of using bond revenue to buy computers and whether the district is moving too quickly to get iPads into the hands of all 600,000 students.
"It is my hope that we will put the district on notice about the concerns," said Stephen English, who chairs the committee that reviews plans for using construction bond revenue. "These concerns have to be addressed before we can go beyond Phase 2. We're unanimous in that."
Contracts for the iPads and the laptops are expected to be awarded at the school board's Dec. 10 meeting, with computers being delivered to Phase 2 schools next spring.
District officials had hoped the order would include more than 28,000 additional iPads that would be given to every principal and teacher to help them get familiar with the devices and jump-start their lessons. But the committee called the purchase "premature," noting that students at some schools won't get iPads for two more years.
The committee also told officials to come back with the price tag for buying keyboards for 49,000 iPads that were distributed during the first phase of the technology project. The keyboards were included in the $135 million request, but members wanted a cost breakdown.
The panel also rejected a request for about 67,000 tablets and 2,000 tablet carts that would be distributed to about 900 schools so their students can take online standardized tests being given by the state next spring. English chastised district officials for coming to the committee with a sketchy plan and advised them to return with more details next month.
However, Matt Hill, the district's chief strategy officer, worried that any delay would make it impossible to buy the iPads in time for students to take the state-mandated assessments in March and April.
"We're going to be busing kids around or busing (existing) computers around," Hill said after the meeting. "Teachers are going to freak out."
Hill was also at odds with committee consultant Tom Rubin over the cost of buying the iPads and laptops for the Phase 2 schools. Rubin, a CPA, estimated the cost at $45 million, while Hill said security, staff and other expenses would push the total closer to $70 million.
The district began rolling out its iPad project in late August and has distributed the tablets to 44 of the 47 schools in the first phase.
Among the 25,000 youngsters who have received a tablet is Western Avenue Elementary student Mildred Morales, who showed off her iPad skills to the committee -- although her presentation was delayed by a technical glitch in the boardroom.
"You put this together?" English asked her. "This is very impressive."
Much of the district's presentation mirrored one given Tuesday night at the Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences in Granada Hills, where about 75 parents and teachers came to get an update on new math and English standards and how the iPads will be used in the classroom.
Just before the workshop, more than a dozen members of United Teachers Los Angeles held a rally in front of the school. While a Marie Antoinette look-alike cried, "Let them eat iPads," the demonstrators protested the technology project and said the district should be focused on reducing class size and hiring more librarians and school nurses instead. ___
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