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LA school board green lights up to 100,000 more iPads

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

The Los Angeles Unified School Board voted Tuesday to allow Superintendent John Deasy to decide how many iPads to purchase for students to take new digital state tests. The board also affirmed a decision to run a laptop pilot of 19,300 and buy 28,000 more iPads loaded with Pearson learning software.

Deasy said giving students access to technology was "a civil rights issue" in addition to being vital to spring testing.

The district estimates the deal will cost  about $127 million dollars.

The decision marks a rare occurrence -  the board went against recommendations of the Bond Oversight Committee, tasked with monitoring spending of school construction bond funds.

Stephen English chairs the committee and asked the board to move forward more modestly until the district had time to gather more information such as how many computers are already on campuses and how the iPad pilot of 30,000 devices was panning out.

“The district will learn a lot of lessons of how it works in the field, and get a better idea of how many they need,” English said, adding the fact that the district has been unable to keep inventory of its current computers should give the board pause.

“The loss ratio could be substantial," he said. 

Despite the concerns, the resolution passed unanimously. Though it did so only after hours of deliberation.

The school board could not agree on how many iPads are needed. 

Deasy requested 67,500 iPads for testing, but district documents show the estimate of need - which does not account for current computer inventory - is closer to 38,500 this year.  

Deasy said that's because students are only taking half of the exams this year, and they will need the full 67,500 in 2015.

Board member Steven Zimmer argued to go with the smaller estimate, saying it would be better to wait for inventory numbers to come in and adjust if the board undershot.

“If the survey comes back that we need to augment or add I’ll be urging my colleagues to not delay,” Zimmer said.

Board member Monica Garcia said the wait-and-see approach could add obstacles come testing time if not enough iPads got to schools.

“We have slowed down the process and we continue to make it smaller and smaller even though we all say we are committed to make it happening," Garcia said.

Board member Tamar Galatzan and Steve Zimmer worked out an amendment to just leave it up to the superintendent.