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LA Unified staff received free iPad before contract

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Los Angeles Unified School District employees received free iPads from the global curriculum company Pearson as part of a 2012 conference sales pitch - and one of them later served on a district team that selected Pearson and Apple for a contract to provide every student and teacher with a tablet, according to testimony Tuesday.

“I’m not sure the exact numbers, but I believe we did have at least one person that was part of the evaluation team that did attend that conference and did receive a device as part of that conference," Mark Hovatter, L.A. Unified's chief facilities executive, said at board committee meeting Tuesday.

School board Member Monica Ratliff, who chairs the Common Core Technology Project Ad Hoc Committee, which is reviewing the iPad program -  said the free iPads give the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Hovatter disagreed that the tablets were a gift.

Under grilling by Ratliff Tuesday, officials also revealed that far more companies sought the contract than the district originally made public.

In a public records act request made by KPCC, the district disclosed only seven proposals. But the committee found that as many as thirteen companies bid.

One of those undisclosed companies was Google, which retails the Chromebook for about half the price of the iPad.

However, the bid shown to the committee showed Google pitched a more expensive package, offering $1,499 per device. The type of device and corresponding curriculum was not disclosed.

Apple initial price was $1,125 per iPad, so Ratliff suggested Google may have also come down.

District officials would not say why Google was disqualified early before such negotiations could take place.

"There appears to be no criteria or system or guidelines for large purchases," said Matthew Kogan, an adult education teacher at the district, during public comment. "How could there be? Part of this $1 billion purchase is buying software LAUSD has not seen."

Another company, Avent, was disqualified for an incomplete curriculum.

But Pearson has yet to finish the iPad software, either.

Ratliff said she’ll take this information to the full board, which is set to decide on whether to buy more iPads at its January 14th meeting.

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