At some point, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) may have to deal with a legal challenge that questions its use of $1 billion in bond construction money to buy iPads for its students, but the Board of Education thought at least it wouldn’t have to be harangued about it by its own Bond Oversight Committee.
Last month, the board effectively kicked its most outspoken iPad critic, architect Stuart Magruder, off the unpaid 15-member advisory panel, much to the consternation of his nominating sponsor, the American Institute of Architects Association (AIAA), and those who question the board’s spending priorities.
Last week, Board Chairman Richard Vladovic changed its mind and his vote and Magruder was back on the committee. Vladovic pretty much blamed fellow board member Tamar Galatzan for his misguided original vote, saying he hadn’t studied the issue and deferred to her informed judgment.
Galatzan, an ardent supporter of the iPad plan, was the instigator behind blocking Magruder’s two-year reappointment, saying at the time, “I think he’s overstepped his bounds. . . . I think he’s overstepped his expertise on the Bond Oversight Committee.”
He may have stepped over a line in Galatzan’s judgment, but the AIAA reminded the board that it had agreed in writing to honor the nominations of its stakeholders.
Magruder, 47, has been an architect for 15 years. He graduated from Princeton University with honors in 1989 with a concentration in Architecture History and Theory and received his Master of Architecture from the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in 1997. Magruder worked for two famous architects in Los Angeles, Richard Meier & Partners and Eric Owen Moss Architects, before founding Studio Nova A Architects in 2005.
He is politically active and thinks it was illegal and immoral to spend $1 billion of bond money earmarked for long-term capital improvements on a technology project of questionable value while schools fall apart.
At least $1 billion was the original price tag tossed around when the school board and LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy enthusiastically embraced the plan to give each of the district’s 640,000 students an iPad, loaded with instructional material, in preparation for the arrival of new Common Core standards.
Problems surfaced immediately in the very limited first-stage of rollout. Virtual keyboards proved impractical, so $38 million in real keyboards was put on the tab. Kids hacked their way past security barriers to use banned social media—and access websites they legitimately needed for homework. The district belatedly struggled to create a policy for handling lost or broken iPads.
Wi-Fi networking, which accounted for around half the billion-dollar expense, is still a work in progress. Installed instructional materials received mixed reviews and questions were raised about Apple’s exclusive contract to supply machines at a price some thought somewhat less than a bargain, especially considering the mass purchase.
After howls from teachers, students, parents, critics and most anyone paying attention during the Fall introduction, the school board voted to slow things down and reconsider some of its policy choices. The contract with Apple was reworked, for openers.
The iPad project has sent shock waves through a community already distressed by its miserable education system, exposing a fault line rattling through the district’s heart. It’s not just about process, contracts, technological choices and prudent financial decisions. Board member Galatzan expressed it thusly: “I wish I could tell you why there is all this hostility toward making sure poor kids have access to technology.”