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Ousted opponent of LA schools iPad fights to regain seat on oversight committee

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The architect tossed off a Los Angeles Unified School District oversight committee Tuesday is fighting to be reinstated.

The school board voted to remove Stuart Magruder, an outspoken critic of the district's iPad program, from a list of renewal appointments on the committee that oversees how bond funds are spent. Those voter-approved bonds have been the principal funding source for Superintendent John Deasy's $1 billion one-to-one tablet initiative.

School officials have said bond funds can be spent on technology upgrades.

But Magruder said voters clearly meant for the $19 billion loans to be used to maintain and build schools, not to buy "the modern equivalent of pencils and paper." He said his ouster was political retribution.

"It drastically calls into question the independence of the committee," he said in an interview.

On Wednesday, the American Institute of Architects asked the school board — nicely — to reconsider his reappointment, given that the committee's founding documents give the institute to a guaranteed seat on the committee.

"According to the charter memorandum of understanding, the school board shall appointment one member nominated by the American Institute of Architects Los Angeles chapter and our nominee is Stuart Magruder," said Nicci Solomons, the Executive Director of the American Institute of Architects, Los Angeles chapter.

The lawyer for the Bond Oversight Committee said the school board has violated the contract. The Memorandum of understanding states the school board "shall" appointment the the institute's nominee after confirming the person has no conflicts of interest.

L.A. Unified officials said Margruder does not benefit financially from school building projects.

At a mostly closed school board meeting Tuesday, member Tamar Galatzan moved to have Magruder name removed from the reappointment list, voicing concerns about his employment as an architect. Board member Steve Zimmer was the only dissenting vote, and Monica Ratliff abstained. 

“I believe Stuart Magruder has overstepped his role as the American Institute of Architects representative to the BOC, and I cannot vote for his reappointment," Galatzan said in a written statement emailed to KPCC Wednesday.

Zimmer did not return calls for comment.

In addition to his criticism of the iPad program, Magruder has called into question Galatzan's discretionary use bond funds. 

He raised issue with her request for $290,000 for computers at specific schools in her district. Since 2011, school board members have spent about $4.5 million of discretionary bond funds on computers not related to the iPad program. Tw0-thirds of that money went to Galatzan's district, which represents the middle- and upper-class West San Fernando Valley.

Magruder argued the money would be better spent on building repairs, which officials estimate will cost $13 billion over the next fifteen years, much more than the remaining bond funds.

Magruder's position won him some fans, including teachers who formed a Facebook group called "Repairs, not iPads." They have protested the district's spending choices when schools still have to deal with broken toilets and leaky facets. 

Matthew Kogan, the L.A. Unified teacher who heads the group, called Magruder's removal an exercise of "unchecked powers."

"I think it shows a disregard for our democratic institutions," Kogan said.

The group has taken to twitter to protest, posting a video documenting Magruder's critique of the iPad program made earlier this year.

LAUSD Bond Oversight Committee Meeting 3-27-14 from Julie Carson on Vimeo.

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