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LA Unified School District has no Plan B for iPad project

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A school board committee overseeing the Los Angeles Unified School District’s iPad project called into question Tuesday whether the project would continue. And, if not, members asked if there were plans in place for administering new digital state tests without iPads.

District officials said there is no Plan B.

The discussion came during an unusual meeting Tuesday in which members took questions from the audience on cue cards — and compelled district officials to answer many on the spot, at times requesting documents and data.

The program is under increasing scrutiny with growing reports of problems, delays and now cost increases. The evening forum was one of two meetings on the tablet plan Tuesday alone. Two more will be held by the end of the month. 

Audience questions ranged from how the procurement process began to detailed questions, such as how long the devices' batteries will last.

RELATEDLA Unified’s iPads pilot phase continues on bumpy road: schools back out, suffer technical glitches

Some of the most basic questions were answered straightaway: The iPads won’t replace textbooks, so the district will continue to buy books; parents cannot opt out their children from classroom use; and devices still aren’t going home with students.

Officials said Tuesday that individual tablets will now cost $770 during the pilot phase, up from about $700. They had miscalculated the initial budget. The district will now use some general fund money to pay for the devices, officials said, on top of the $30 million in bond funds already set aside.

During the open forum at district headquarters in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday night, Parent Virginia Sanchez voiced concerns about those rising costs while schools struggle to pay for essential items, like photocopies.

“Teachers have a limit of 5,000 copies,” said Sanchez, speaking through an interpreter. “The schools are already running out of ink. My concern is that the issuing of the iPads will make this worse.”

Who's responsible?

Then came the question that’s been asked at nearly every meeting since the start of the school year: Will parents be responsible if the devices are broken, lost or stolen?

“I’m concerned that we are still telling parents orally that they are not responsible, but making them sign something that says they are responsible,” said school board member Monica Ratliff, who heads the commitee.

The contract with Apple sets aside back-up devices, but the number is limited and it remains unclear how malfunctioning, lost or damaged iPads will be paid for when the pool dries up.

The district was unable to provide all the information requested on the procurement process, the status of underdeveloped Pearson software and the exact cost of the iPad and each add-on, amongst other requests.

Gerardo Loera, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction for L.A. Unified, said the district don’t know how much they are paying for the Pearson software, because the cost was bundled by Apple. Apple doesn’t have to share its financial agreement with a subcontractor, district officials said.

The district had planned to put the devices in the hands of each of the district's 650,000 students by next fall, but Supt. John Deasy recently announced he wants to delay full rollout by a year.

The full school board will hold a special meeting on iPad project on Oct. 29.

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