What do former Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. John Deasy and President Barack Obama have in common? Answer: An ability to roll out questionable programs that cost the taxpayers millions and even billions.
Obama’s Affordable Care Act or Obamacare website, has been plagued with difficulties since the beginning. The website made enrollment almost impossible for many during early sign-ups and to date, has cost taxpayers millions to fix technical bugs.
Deasy’s iPads-for-all project has proven to be a very expensive undertaking, as well, for the taxpayers in California. According to Deasy, his program was a ‘civil rights imperative’ that gave low-income students equal access to technology.
Under the $1.3 billion program approved by the L.A. Unified Board of Education in June 2013, each student enrolled in the district was slated to be given an iPad, purportedly to help with their education.
Just like Obama’s erroneous claim of success with Obamacare enrollments, Deasy also claimed victory with his project, even though critics spoke out about the project’s problems, a mere two weeks after it had begun.
Issues with Deasy’s school-based program included students’ ability to delete a security filter that allowed them to browse the Internet on websites not sanctioned by the school and complaints from many teachers that they were poorly trained in using the devices.
The rollout that had initially spanned 47 schools was a dismal failure and had to be suspended. Deasy eventually resigned under pressure when the issues could not be resolved.
But like lingering Obamacare issues, the more dubious questions surrounding the iPad-for-all project may have just begun.
“They stopped by late yesterday afternoon,” according to Ramon C. Cortines, Deasy’s replacement as school superintendent. “I found out at 4:30 in the afternoon on Monday,” Cortines said, apparently surprised by the FBI’s unannounced visit.
Typically, the FBI doesn’t conduct an investigation for a failed program. However, in this instance, one must follow a potential conflict in order to discover the possible reason for the investigation.
Deasy was looking to fund his project through taxpayer approved school bonds. Typically, a bidding process is required to determine who should be awarded any contracts.
In 2011, Deasy made a video for Apple, promoting the iPad for use in his program. In the video, Deasy claimed that the iPad would lead to “huge leaps in what’s possible for students” and would “phenomenally…change the landscape of education.” Apple would later post this video on their own website.
Emails secured from the California Public Records Act, showed that months prior to making the video, Deasy and then Deputy Supt. Jaime Aquino, had been in talks with Apple to supply the iPads for Deasy’s project. Deasy had even traveled to Apple’s headquarters on two occasions to meet with Apple officials, including chief executive Tim Cook.
Deasy and Aquino had also spoken with London-based Pearson to supply the software curriculum that would accompany the iPads. Deasy subsequently met with Pearson’s chief executive in California.
That same year, the draft of a five-year district technology plan revealed that Apple, Pearson and the district were considering themselves as a ‘potential strategic partnership.’ No other organization was mentioned in the draft.
In November 2012, Deasy sought approval from an independent panel that reviews how voter-approved school bonds are spent. The panel members expressed concerns about approving the project, mostly due to the life span of the device, rather than any conflict with Deasy’s apparent association with Apple.
Following the review, bond committee consultant, Thomas Rubin, indicated that no device had been chosen and that bidding wasn’t scheduled to start for nearly four months. It was then, however, that district staff changed the project’s name from ‘iPad’ to ‘electronic devices.’
The bidding process moved forward and Apple represented two out of the three finalists being considered for the project with Pearson being the chosen curriculum of all three finalists.
Deasy claimed that he had intentionally removed himself from the bidding process because he ‘owns stock in Apple.’
The Board of Education subsequently approved an initial $30-million contract with Apple in June 2013.
It is still too early to tell if the FBI is investigating Deasy, the Board of Education, or others involved in the use of taxpayer-approved school bonds. There will, however, most likely be a lot of finger pointing as the FBI furthers its investigation.
The Board of Education should have gotten their first clue that the bidding process was never neutral but biased in favor of Apple, since Deasy named the program after an Apple device, ‘iPads-for-all,’ and not ‘Devices-for-all,’ from the start.
Also, the selection of the project’s name, the promotional video for Apple, and the meetings between Deasy and Apple executives, in no way exemplify a man who remained neutral throughout the bidding process.
Finally, it can clearly be argued that the school district saw the potential appearance of impropriety when they changed the name of the project from one associated with Apple to one not associated with any corporation, following the independent review.
There is no word yet on how long the FBI investigation will take.
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