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iPad contract resurrected: LAUSD to spend $22 million on tech

Brayan Aguilar, 17, and Yadira Aragon, 16, use iPads to read electronic books in a literacy class at Diego Rivera Learning Complex.
Brayan Aguilar, 17, and Yadira Aragon, 16, use iPads to read electronic books in a literacy class at Diego Rivera Learning Complex.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

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Three months after the former superintendent axed a controversial contract with Apple and Pearson, interim Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Ramon Cortines is planning to spend $22 million in bond money under that same contract to buy more than 20,000 iPads for standardized tests in the spring.

Mark Hovatter, chief facilities executive, said John Deasy's decision to cancel the contract in August only applied to "instructional" iPads that included the Pearson software. He said Cortines is free to use the contract to buy devices for tests.

"There was no need to cancel the contract," said Hovatter. "We believe we got the best value."

Deasy announced the cancellation in August after KPCC found close ties between his office and Pearson executives, calling into question whether the bidding process was fair.  He resigned two months later.

Under the contract, signed in June 2013, the L.A. Unified School District had agreed to pay about $700 for each iPad, loaded with K-12 software from Pearson. Deasy had planned to supply all 650,000 students with a device, launching the largest school technology expansion in the country.

When testing came around last year, the Deasy said he didn't yet have enough devices for all students to take the tests.  The district negotiated the price with Apple down to $504 per device by cutting out the Pearson software - and bought 45,000 of these "testing" iPads last year.

In all, only about 15 percent of students got iPads.

Deasy didn't spend the district's entire testing allowance last year. Cortines wants to use $9.2 million that was left over and spend another $13 million on top of it for a total of $22 million for iPads, Chromebooks, secure carts and to beef up IT and add other staff.

But the price has gone up. This time, the district will pay $552 per iPad.

According to Cortines's purchase request, teachers and principals were given the option between iPads and Chomebooks after testing last year. He said iPads and external keyboards were almost three times as popular Chromebooks, which retail for half the price.

Cortines is asking the school district's Bond Oversight Committee for approval to use bonds for the purchase, which includes $2.6 million in staffing costs. 

After Cortines' proposal is head by that group, it is scheduled to go before the school board in December for final approval.

Like Deasy before him, Cortines is pitching the purchase as revolutionary, working to "prepare students to master Common Core State Standards, facilitate students' proficient use of digital learning technology, equip educators with tools to advance student learning in the classroom and further close the digital divide," according to the request.

But last spring, school staff reported students using iPads struggled to get online, had trouble connecting keyboards and navigating on the 9.7-inch screen. In some cases, the iPads didn't turn on at all.

"It took a while for it to work," Lia Peña, a junior at Hamilton High School near Culver City told KPCC last April. "I only ended up answering three questions by the end of class."