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L.A. School Chief Seeks Board Communications Amid Furor Over iPad Deal

10pearson_lede600.jpgBy Leslie A. Maxwell. Cross-posted from the District Dossier blog.

Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy, under intense scrutiny for the district's controversial iPad project, is firing back at the elected school board that hired him by filing a public records request that seeks emails and other correspondence between board members and numerous technology and educational publishing companies.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the superintendent—who last month halted the district's $30 million contract agreement with Apple Inc. and Pearson—filed the records request through his own lawyer. That contract is part of $1.3 billion initiative to provide digital devices to 651,000 students in the district.

Deasy, along with his former deputy superintendent Jaime Aquino, have been vigorously defending themselves against accusations of possible conflicts of interest, and against questions about the district's management of the Apple/Pearson deal. Their critics charge that emails between Deasy, Aquino and officials from Apple and Pearson may have undermined the integrity of the procurement process.

The schools chief has fought back against those allegations, describing the contacts with companies as standard discussions unconnected to the iPad deal. In a six-page letter sent to the board last week, he said "false and misleading statements of fact" had been made public "for what seems to be primarily political reasons."

According to the Times, Deasy's request, filed Sept. 10, seeks "all meeting notes and correspondence (including emails and letters)" from Jan. 1, 2012 through Sept. 1, 2014. It names board members Mónica Garcia, Tamar Galatzan, Bennett Kayser, George McKenna (who was just elected last month), and Steve Zimmer and seeks any documents involving them and their staff members related to 18 technology companies and two individuals, according to the Times story. The companies listed in Deasy's request include Acer, Amplify Educaton Inc., Apple, Dell, HP, Lenovo, McGraw-Hill, Microsoft, Pearson, News Corp. and Toshiba.

The request also includes Meg Whitman, the HP chief executive, as well as Joel Klein, the former chancellor of the New York City school system who now helms Amplify, a subsidiary of News Corp. The Times also reported that Deasy filed a similar request on Aug. 28, seeking correspondence from Richard Vladovic, the president of the board, and board member Monica Ratliff.

The 651,000-student Los Angeles school system's iPad project has fueled a series of controversies since it was rolled out last year.

Some of the devices were affected by technology breakdowns and security snafus. But other, broader questions emerged about the purchase, including why curriculum designed by a subcontractor, Pearson, which was embedded in the devices, was not complete at the time of the rollout, leading teachers and others to question its usefulness, as Education Week reported last October. Others have questioned the use of bond funds to pay for the technology project.

Those issues, among others, were highlighted in an at-times stinging draft report that examined the iPad purchase that was issued by an ad-hoc district committee last month. The committee, chaired by school board member Monica Ratliff, and over the course of ten months it heard more than 27 hours of presentations from district staff connected with the tech project.

Students photograph themselves with an iPad during a class at Broadacres Elementary School in Carson, Calif.
--Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times/AP

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