LAUSD iPads haunt board incumbents as May runoff approaches

Los Angeles Unified school board candidates are spending tens of thousands of dollars on ads and mailers attacking the incumbents on the iPad program.
Los Angeles Unified school board candidates are spending tens of thousands of dollars on ads and mailers attacking the incumbents on the iPad program.
Annie GIlbertson/ KPCC

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Candidates challenging Los Angeles Unified school board incumbents are spending tens of thousands of dollars on attack ads to remind voters of the iPad debacle that have cost taxpayers millions.

School board incumbents are rarely faced with such strong opposition: this election marks the first time in 15 years three board members have been forced into a runoff.

The iPad program was envisioned to equip all 650,000 district students with a tablet, train teachers and install or upgrade WiFi at the district's 800 schools for a price tag of $1.3 billion. 

That's been reason enough for some critics to call for the ouster of the incumbent school board members. But add on the FBI's investigation into the procurement of the tablets following disclosures of close ties between district officials and vendors, a Securities and Exchange Commission examination of how school construction bonds for the iPads were marketed to investors and the district's demand for a refund from Apple after software on the tablets failed to work, and it all amounts to a political storm.

But even with widespread dismay about the iPad program, the campaign attack ads sent to voters are light on the facts when it comes to describing the board members' diverse actions on the technology program. Here's our truth-squadding on who did what when:

Tamar Galatzan - District 3 

Her opponents' ad said:

Tamar Galatzan betrayed taxpayers by diverting $1 billion from fixing our crumbing schools to the failed iPad program instead. Now, the FBI is investigating the program for possible corruption. (Paid for by United Teachers Los Angeles)

Tamar Galatzan was an early and vocal supporter of the program. She stands by her position that more students should have technology to ensure all have access to digital learning regardless of family income.

The iPad program was paid for by school construction bonds, using part of the $20 billion in bond proceeds collected since 1997. But officials said no repair projects were abandoned because of the expense of the technology program.

Another anti-Galatzan ad stated:

The failed iPad program is still costing us. The program was managed so poorly and suspiciously that the federal government has stepped in, launching an FBI investigation to figure out where our money went. (Paid for by United Teachers Los Angeles)

The district is under investigation by the FBI in what is believed to be a public corruption case. "Where the money went" is well documented – it went to Apple, the software manufacturer Pearson, and WiFi installation. So no mystery there.

Galatzan is being challenged by Scott Schmerelson, who is against using school construction bonds on technology. 

Bennett Kayser – District 5

A pro-charter group's ad asserted:

Despite ownership in Apple stock, Kayser still voted to expand the controversial iPad program which stole hundreds of millions of dollars from taxpayers approved bond money intended to repair unsafe and dilapidated classrooms. Kayser was given his own taxpayer funded iPad and iPhone. (Paid for by the California Charter School Association Advocates)

When the board voted for the first order of iPads, Kayser recused himself from voting because he held stock in Apple. But he said he was opposed to then Superintendent John Deasy's iPad program.

The iPad program was paid for with bond funds, which are also used to repair schools (see above for information on the bonds and repairs). All board members received an iPad, but Kayser's office said he returned it. Kayser uses a personal iPhone, according to his chief of staff.

Bennett Kayser voted to expand the controversial iPad program that stole millions from efforts to reduce overcrowding and remove the hazards of asbestos and lead paint in out schools.  (Paid for by the California Charter School Association Advocates)

After Kayser sold his Apple stock, and he did vote to approve an expansion of the iPad program, which included tablets for new digital state tests. But he said he is against any further expansion of the project.

District school maintenance officials said there are no known cases of asbestos and lead paint posing a hazard for students or staff. 

Kayser is being challenged by Ref Rodriguez, who believes the iPad contract was mishandled, but supports expanding classroom technology.

Richard Vladovic - District 7

His opponent stated:

Just this year alone, the district has wasted away hundreds millions dollars on over paid consultants and ill-planned implementation of technology, like the iPads and the scheduling of classes like MISIS. (Statement by District 7 candidate Lydia Gutierrez)

Richard Vladovic supported the iPad program and, as board president, started a committee to conduct a probe into the project. The committee found numerous flaws in the bidding process as well as shortcomings in the software. Vladovic then pushed to dissolve the committee.

Vladovic still supports expanding technology in the classroom. He, along with other school board members, oversaw the district as it developed the MiSiS student data program, which resulted in major class scheduling problems that the district said are being fixed. 

Teachers call $1.3 billion iPad buy a FIASCO, but still are willing to give Richard Vladovic a third [term]. (Statement by District 7 candidate Lydia Gutierrez)

Gutierrez supports growing classroom technology, but believes the iPad program was ill-conceived. 

For all the controversy generated by the iPad program, the board election is also a power struggle between labor and the charter schools.

The teachers union is supporting two incumbents, Kayser and Vladovic. They oppose incumbent Galatzan, siding instead with Schmerelson. Charter advocates support Rodriguez, Galatzan and Vladovic. 

Voters will have the task of judging the veracity of the ads thrown at them and choosing between the candidates. At least when it comes to knowing who supported the iPad program, it's all on the record.