- John Deasy
At the beginning of August, Superintendent Deasy was mocking opponents of his plan “to provide an iPad to every Los Angeles student, teacher and school administrator.” Yesterday he cancelled the project as the controversy grew over mounting evidence of improprieties in the bidding process. This step should serve as the beginning of a process to make sure that the mistakes that haunted this project from the beginning are never repeated.
Unfortunately, the Board of Education’s record of overseeing the superintendent does not inspire confidence. Board member Tamar Galatzan served on the committee which drafted a report that concluded the iPad program “was beset by inadequate planning, a lack of transparency and a flawed bidding process” and, therefore, had advance access to the information that was being collected. Instead of seeing this as a reason to question the ability of the superintendent to run the district, she focused her attention on trying to get rid of his critics. For example, she repeatedly voted to block the reappointment of Stuart Magruder to the bond oversight committee because she thought that “the committee has done too little oversight on construction projects and too much on technology.” Of course this line of reasoning ignored the fact that it was Deasy who had decided to pay for consumer items and software with bond funds that were sold to the voters as money needed for construction.
A program costing over $1 billion should not have been implemented in a district that has been haunted by shortened school years, closed libraries, unstaffed nurses offices, increased class sizes, teacher layoffs and furlough days. The fact that it was implemented so poorly that it must be restarted is absolutely unconscionable. The students, parents, teachers and taxpayers of the district are owed answers to their questions, including the following:
DID DEASY BREAK THE DISTRICT’S ETHICS POLICIES? “The superintendent recused himself from the bidding process because he owned Apple stock.” However, e-mails show that he was “meeting with Pearson and Apple to discuss the eventual purchase of their products starting nearly a year before the contract went out to public bid.” Were these meetings ethical and, if they were, should the superintendent have recused himself from them?
DID DEASY BREAK THE LAW? During the time period when these private meetings occurred, did the superintendent buy or sell stock in either Pearson or Apple. If he did so knowing that he was going to commit the district to a $1 billion purchase, then this would subject him to insider-trading laws.
WHY DID PEARSON HAVE ACCESS TO INTERNAL CONVERSATIONS ABOUT DISTRICT POLICY? A sales representative from Pearson was included in an e-mail conversation between Deasy and his head of curriculum, Jaime Aquino. In these e-mails, she let it be known that “she did not want the district to solicit bids from other companies.” A private company, especially one with a potential financial interest in the subject being discussed, should never have been included in these types of discussions.
HOW MUCH MONEY WAS WASTED BEFORE THE PROGRAM WAS SHUT DOWN. The district recalled the iPads from the initial purchase when students were able to hack into them to access unauthorized sites. One teacher suggested that the district “tell Pearson that we are abandoning their digital books for utter negligence of consideration for end users.”
WHY WAS THIS PROGRAM PAID FOR WITH CONSTRUCTION FUNDS? The taxpayers will be paying for these iPads long after they have been deposited in a landfill. Money obtained through bonds must be paid back with interest over 30 years. iPads are consumer items that are expected to last three years. Even worse, it appears that the software was bundled with the hardware in an effort to evade a prohibition on using bond funds for curriculum materials.
For too long the board has neglected its duty to oversee the actions of the superintendent. Getting to the bottom of these questions would be a good first step in setting this right.