The $1 billion contract that L.A. schools had made with Apple to provide iPads to all the students in the district was suspended on Monday, according to a memo from Supt. John Deasy to the Board of Educationobtained by the Los Angeles Times.
Deasy wrote in the memo, “Moving forward, we will no longer utilize our current contract with Apple Inc. 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 [project].”
It recently came to light that Deasy and Deputy Supt. Jaime Aquino had close connections with executives of Apple and Pearson, the company that inputs curriculum into the iPads.
The contract, signed last year, was for an initial $30-million to go to Apple and then explode to roughly $500 million over the first year of implementation. Another $500 million was going to be spent on improved Internet access as well as other ancillary issues. Because the purchases had to undergo approval at each step, Deasy had the luxury of starting over.
Deasy was coming under fire on the issue, although he has stoutly defended the idea; last week, a district technology committee blasted the bidding process involved in the iPad deal. The report from the committee asserted that the initial rules set for getting the bid seemed to be tilted toward Apple and Pearson; there were significant amendments to the bidding rules after most of the competition was dismissed under the original specifications.
Deasy answered charges that there was an appearance of an ethical conflict because of his prior associations with vendors by defending his staff and the original process, lamely asserting that he had not read the report because he had not been supplied with a copy.
The Times reports: “Emails and other documents, some of which were released under a California Public Records Act request Friday, showed detailed — and numerous — contacts between Deasy, Deputy Supt. Jaime Aquino, and the corporate executives. It appears that the officials began discussing the school system’s effort to supply students computers equipped with online curriculum at least two years before the contract was approved.”
One May 24, 2012 email, from Aquino to Pearson, seemed to give the company an inside track to the bid, stating, “I believe we would have to make sure that your bid is the lowest one.” Before working at the school district, Aquino was an executive with a Pearson affiliate. Deasy followed Aquino’s email with one of his own to Pearson, writing, “Understand your points, and we need to work together on this quickly. I want to not loose [sic] an amazing opportunity and fully recognize our current limits.”
Deasy said on Sunday that the dialogue with Pearson was about a “pilot program we did at several schools months before we decided to do a large-scale implementation. We did work closely on this pilot.” He stated that Aquino also contacted Amplify Education Inc. to give them the same chance as Pearson, adding, “Nothing was done in any inappropriate way whatsoever. Of course I talk to people. I would be expected to.”
Aquino has already left L.A. Unified; he denied a request for an interview. The teachers union wants an investigation into the process, and L.A. Unified’s inspector general is also going to further his inquiry. The inspector general has already submitted a report to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, which decided no charges should be filed.
One of the criticisms of the original deal was that the iPad that would be purchased was inferior to a newer version on retail shelves. Deasy induced Apple to provide the newer model for the same price as the older version. Pearson’s curriculum was under development when the system was purchased, also incurring criticism of the deal.
Deasy said of what is to come, “We will incorporate the lessons learned from the original procurement process. We look forward to refining our processes and ultimately achieve our vision to equip every one of our students with a personal computing device to help them succeed in the 21st century.”