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Internal emails show LA school officials started iPad talks with software supplier a year before bids

Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy  speaks during a press conference at South Region High School #2 in Los Angeles, California February 6, 2012.
Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy speaks during a press conference at South Region High School #2 in Los Angeles, California February 6, 2012. Krista Kennell/AFP/Getty Images

Emails obtained by KPCC show Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy personally began meeting with Pearson and Apple to discuss the eventual purchase of their products starting nearly a year before the contract went out to public bid.

Related: How LA Unified launched it's iPad program - before the bids - and where it stands now

Detailed in dozens of emails, the early private talks included everything from prices - about $160 million over five years - to tech support.

"On behalf of those involved in Pearson Common Core System of Courses, I want you to know how much we are looking forward to our partnership with LAUSD," Pearson staffer Sherry King wrote the head of curriculum for L.A. Unified at the time, Jaime Aquino, in November 2012. "We have begun to work closely with your leadership to help make the transition to the  common core smooth for everyone."

Emails show Deasy met with CEO of Pearson in May 2012 and later told her it led him to have "excited" conversations with his staff upon his return.

After that meeting, Deasy and other high ranking officials exchanged emails about using Pearson as part of its transition to the new Common Core learning standards.

Emails show Deasy also met with Apple officials, in July 2012.

"The meeting went very well," he wrote to a Pearson official. He said Apple "was fully committed to being a partner."

Told about the emails, L.A. Unified school board member Steve Zimmer said the emails raise the question of whether administrators “made a decision in search of a procurement, rather than the other way around.”

He vowed to look into it.

“We have to make sure this is completely ethical and above board,” he said.

Reached by phone Thursday evening, school district officials said they were unprepared to comment on the email discussions between L.A. Unified and Pearson. They continued to decline comment Friday morning.

Pearson and Apple officials could not be reached for comment Friday.

Michael Josephson, of the Josephson Institute of Ethics in Los Angeles, said it’s possible Pearson was the best choice and school officials didn’t mean to play to favorites - but it doesn't look good.

“You absolutely don’t want a situation where contracts are being steered to favorites,” he said. “It invites kickbacks. It invites skimming. It invites bribery. That’s totally unacceptable.”

A school board committee is currently writing a report detailing its concerns with the iPad project.

A draft version obtained by KPCC Thursday shows members of the Common Core Technology Ad Hoc Committee raise questions about whether it was proper for administrators to use school construction bond funds to purchase curriculum software. When licenses expire and devices fall out of date, the report notes, the district may no longer be able to pull from bond funds.
 
“The Committee is not convinced that textbook funds are adequate to replenish devices, purchase any necessary software licenses and purchase any textbooks that may still be necessary,” the report reads.

The report also calls out district officials for changing product requirements in the middle of the bid selection process.
 
“It’s impossible to determine to what extent the field of proposers was limited as a result of minimum requirements,” the report reads. Changes made in the “11th hour,” it continues, opens the “door to the appearance of manipulation."

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