Three days after KPCC published internal emails showing top L.A. Unified officials and executives from Pearson and Apple met and discussed bringing tablet-driven education software to the classroom, the school district announced Monday it will cancel the contract with Apple and Pearson and open its one-to-one technology project to new bids.
Superintendent John Deasy alerted school board members to the change to the Common Core Technology Project in a memo distributed Monday evening and obtained by KPCC. (You can read his full memo, embedded below.)
"Not only will this decision enable us to take advantage of an ever-changing marketplace and technology advances, it will also give us time to take into account concerns raised surrounding the [Common Core Technology Project] and receive new information from the California Department of Education regarding assessments," Deasy wrote.
KPCC's investigation found Deasy and his deputies communicated with Pearson employees over pricing, teacher training and technical support - specifications that later resembled the district's request for proposals from vendors. Pearson and Apple emerged as the winning bidders and were awarded the now-abandoned contract in June 2013.
"Specifically, we will be re-visiting the criteria on which original specifications were based, as well as review vendor responses and student feedback to the laptop pilot," Deasy wrote. "We expect our current contractor and their subcontractor to participate in the upcoming RFP."
It's unclear how the decision will affect the 75,000 iPads the district has already purchased - about half of which were loaded with Pearson's unfinished software. Pearson is not required to finish the software until November.
L.A. Unified’s technology project is poised to be the largest school expansion in the country, equipping 650,000 students with computers and upgrading wifi networks at the district’s 800 schools. The project is expected to cost $1.3 billion.
“I believe the majority of the board is supportive of the concept, but not the contract,” school board member Steve Zimmer told KPCC after Deasy's announcement.
Dozens of emails obtained by KPCC through a public records request show Deasy directed his staff to figure out how to incorporate Pearsons’s software into the school system’s plan to transition to the Common Core standards in 2012.
“Looking forward to further work together for our youth in Los Angeles!” Deasy wrote to Marjorie Scardino, then Pearson’s CEO, on Tuesday, May 22, 2012.
Pearson officials weighed in on questions of how to finance software purchases - and opposed the district issuing a request for proposals for competition over the contract.
"I don’t know why there would have to be an RFP," Pearson sales rep Judy Codding wrote in one email to L.A. Unified's then-head of instruction, Jamie Aquino. "I cannot imagine anyone else able to do this as cheaply with all the PD [professional development] and all the materials for 25 courses for the price we discussed.”
The district ultimately decided to pay for the project through its $20 billion in school construction bonds, which can also be used for some technology projects. A school board committee that reviewed the purchase is questioning whether L.A. Unified should have tapped that pool of money, according to a draft report obtained by KPCC and other media on Thursday.
“It’s too little too late,” said Scott Folsom, a member of a different, citizen's committee overseeing the use of bond funds. “The emails imply a wrongdoing. It's fairly obvious Deasy is trying to save himself.”
After KPCC broke the story, Deasy told the L.A. Times over the weekend the emails were related to a small pilot program, not the full purchase. Pearson backed him Monday afternoon, agreeing the emails were about a pilot project at two L.A. Unified schools.
But KPCC reported emails showed Aquino complained about the cost of training 2,000 L.A. Unified teachers on the Pearson software - many more than would be needed for a tiny pilot project.
The teacher's union, which frequently spars with Deasy, issued a scathing public statement late Monday night.
"The superintendent does not get to just say, 'never mind' after all the problems the iPad rollout caused this district," said the missive, emailed by United Teachers Los Angeles spokeswoman Suzanne Spurgeon. "Students, parents, and educators have a right to know what happened. UTLA will be at the school board meeting on Tuesday demanding some answers."
This story has been updated.