Feds Drop Investigation Into Los Angeles District Over $1 Billion iPad Purchase

Associate Editor

A two-year federal probe into Los Angeles Unified School District’s controversial multi-million dollar plan to buy iPads for all of its students has ended without any charges being filed, the district announced on Tuesday.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office dropped the investigation into the district’s purchase of Apple’s iPads loaded with a Pearson curriculum, according to an announcement from David Holmquist, the district’s general counsel. Holmquist did not elaborate in his statement.

The quiet ending came in sharp contrast to years of tumult over the issue, which raised procurement questions about top LAUSD officials’ communication with Apple and Pearson before the contract was awarded. Questions also centered in implementation issues in classrooms —from security breaches to lack of teacher training–and the purchase of an incomplete curriculum from Pearson. Questions also arose about the LAUSD’s use of bond funds to pay for technology.

Procurement Questions

Originally called the Common Core Technology Project, the LAUSD’s technology initiative began in 2013 with a plan to quickly deliver iPads to every student and teacher in the nation’s second-largest district. The estimated price tag, including infrastructure upgrades, was eventually put at more than $1 billion, to be funded through bonds.

Thirteen bidders responded to the original request for proposal, and in July 2013, the district signed a three-year, $30 million contract with Apple Inc. for the first phase of a plan to get iPads with Pearson’s new Common Core System of Courses into the hands of all 650,000 Los Angeles Unified students.

The first iPads were delivered for the 2013-14 school year. Almost immediately, the roll-out ran into trouble, from security breaches when students hacked the iPads for internet access, to lack of sufficient teacher training.

Curriculum Issues

My colleague Ben Herold explored concerns that the Pearson curriculum, which was intended to become the district’s primary instructional resource in both math and English/language arts for kindergarten through 12th grade, contained only a few sample lessons per grade at the start, resulting in widespread frustration and confusion among classroom teachers.

Beyond that, district officials couldn’t immediately identify how much they had paid in the Apple-Pearson partnership for the curriculum portion of their purchase, or whether the curriculum was owned by them or licensed for a time.

An August 2014 internal school board review sorted out the real cost of the program: Of the $768 the LAUSD paid for each of the 30,000 iPads that were purchased as part of the project’s first phase, between $150 and $300 went to Pearson for the incomplete curriculum. That works out to a total of somewhere between $4.5 million and $9 million.

The district announced plans to terminate its contract with Apple and Pearson and re-bid the work the same month that the internal report was released. That review questioned several aspects of the project—most notably, the decision to provide just the Apple digital tool across the district, as well as some of the restrictions and requirements put on vendors in the district’s request for proposals,

The review was not unilaterally critical of L.A. officials’ decision-making, however. It noted that many of their choices about how to structure their RFP and plan the technology process made sense, given the project’s size and deadlines.

Pre-Contract Conversations

It was also in August 2014 that local media reported on emailed conversations that Superintendent John Deasy, the architect of the project, and one of his top deputies had with Apple and Pearson, that occurred before the contract was awarded.

Deasy strongly denied any wrongdoing, saying the criticism of him was politically motivated, and that the communications with the companies did not show favoritism. Deasy resigned in October 2014, and the chief technology officer stepped down as well.

At the behest of a grand jury, the U.S. Attorney’s office issued subpoenas in late 2014, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation removed 20 boxes of evidence from LAUSD offices.

The closing of the case came with little fanfare, in the brief announcement from Holmquist.

Today, there are 124,421 iPads in use in LAUSD, at a cost of $82.8 million, according to the district.

Pearson, in October 2015, agreed to pay a settlement of $6.45 million to L.A. to reimburse the district for “content and services delivered under [its] technology partnership” with the school system.

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