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LA school board: iPad investigation to remain confidential

Photo by Robert S. Donovan via Flickr Creative Commons

In a split vote, the Los Angeles Unified school board decided late Tuesday against releasing the an initial investigation into the $500 million purchase of iPads and educational software.

Board members Richard Vladovic, George McKenna, Monica Garcia and Tamar Galatzan voted down the motion, outnumbering board members Monica Ratliff, Bennett Kayser and Steve Zimmer, who voted in favor of the release. 

"The District should release the report in order to lay to rest certain questions and avoid any suspicion generated by lack of transparency," board member Monica Ratliff, who wanted to make it public, said in a statement Wednesday. "In light of the substantial investment of voter-approved bond funds in this project, I am disappointed that my colleagues have chosen not to publicize this report so many months after its completion.” 

L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy holds the bidding process was fair.

Board Member Monica Garcia suggested Ratliff's request to release the report was politically motivated. Deasy is up for his annual review this month.

"We struggle with our [inspector general] sometimes being used as a political tool as opposed to an office of auditing and investigation we can count on," Garcia said. 

Ratliff reiterated her interest in transparency. 

District staff was opposed to the release. Inspector general Ken Bramlett said releasing the report could compromise a follow-up investigation currently underway. 

“We don’t want to release the information in the report until we find out what we are dealing with,” Bramlett told KPCC. “There is new information that has come forward.” 

David Holmquist, the school district's general counsel, was also opposed. He argued the report could affect potential litigation. 

“I would prefer not to have problems arise out of releasing a document that could later be used against us,” Holmquist said. 

But Kayser said the public's right to know outweighed that.

"I believe we should always fault on the side of greatest transparency when dealing with tax dollars," Kayser said in a statement Wednesday. "The public has a lot of legitimate questions about the Superintendent’s iPad/Common Core procurement process, and I believe they deserve answers sooner rather than later."

Ratliff headed a committee that uncovered questionable practices as the district began providing all students iPads loaded with software from publishing giant Person last fall. It was the largest technology expansion in the country, aimed at giving every teacher and student in the district a personal device. 

Her Common Core Technology Ad Hoc committee scrutinized inconsistent scoring in the district's evaluation of tablet vendors, possible conflicts of interest involving free iPads for staff and additional wifi and accessory costs.  The committee's final report credits KPCC's investigations of iPad giveaways and district communication with vendors ahead of bid.

The program expansion has since slowed. Only about 15 percent of students and teachers have a device.

Ratliff's committee was disbanded by the board president, Vladovic, last spring.

Bramlett, the inspector general, launched an investigation into the district's selection of Apple and the publishing company Pearson shortly after iPads shipped to schools.

In April, the District Attorney's office told the L.A. Times no charges were warranted, but the district did not release the report sent to prosecutors.

In August, KPCC reported email discussions and meetings between Superintendent John Deasy, his top staffers and executives at Apple and Pearson held ahead of the bid. When the project later went out to bid the requirements resembled details in those discussions – and the screen specifications matching an iPad – calling into question whether the award was fair.

The inspector general launched a second investigation based on the emails.

Board members Tamar Galatzan and Monica Garcia, Deasy's closest allies, recommend releasing the report, but only when counsel deemed it appropriate. 

"If something is in that report that there is litigation over or a criminal investigation or a criminal prosecution, their advice to us is don't release it until its over," Galatzan said.