Latest LAUSD Drama: Teachers Upset About $1 Billion iPad Program, Want Repairs Instead

LAUSD 1Last June, the Board of Education approved a multimillion-dollar iPad program for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). For more than six months, the District has faced security issues, budget woes, and other issues relating to the iPad program. The tech world has been following the LAUSD’s adventure because the second-largest school district in the United States is the perfect testing ground for a widespread rollout of such a program.

Only a few months after the program was approved, students and teachers in the District started a Facebook page, “Repairs not iPads” to call attention to the fact that schools are lacking repairs, even though a huge portion of school funds are directed to buying iPads.

LAUSD 2The Facebook page includes pictures of various schools with exposed electrical outlets, broken water fountains, cockroaches, flooded classrooms, and more. One caption reads, “What if your spouse went out to repair the leaky roof and instead came home with an iPad?”

In my past life, I worked for a consulting firm that focused on helping California school districts obtain approval for construction projects. I don’t know a lot, but I have a vague understanding of how funding works.

If the argument were “raises not iPads” or “schoolbooks not iPads,” I could easily point to California regulations that specifically require funds for teachers and supplies to be separate from construction and technology. Funds cannot be moved from one account to another.

However, construction bonds do cover technology. In fact, the 2008 General Election measure that Repairs not iPads claims is used to cover the cost of the iPad program specifically requests approval for a $7 billion bond that would cover repairs, modernization, fire and earthquake safety, asbestos and lead paint removal, and more. The same bond includes wording for improving classroom Internet access, but does not mention technology upgrades. The group argues that voters thought they were voting to approve a bond for repairs, not iPads.

In an interview with NBC’s Los Angeles affiliate, the Districts deputy director of maintenance and operations, Robert Loughton, said the repairs funds are not actually being used for technology funds. “These aren’t competing demands,” he said. “We have a fully funded technology plan and a fully funded repair plan.”

LAUSD 3What the District is lacking, when it comes to repairs, is a well-funded maintenance staff. According to NBC L.A., District officials have admitted that budget cuts have forced them to cut maintenance staff in half over the past six years.

While the problem with repairs in schools across the LAUSD may not be directly related to the iPad program, what teachers and parents are arguing is that Superintendent John Deasy, who pushed the hardest for funding, has his priorities set on advancing technology in schools at the expense of advancing health and safety standards for students.

About Lory: Writer of all things app related, traveler of the space-time continuum, baker of really great cookies. Follow me @appaholik

  • cynicwithtaste

    This group is raising a good issue, but here’s the bigger one on using this bond money for iPads. It’s logical to use long-term bonds to fund major construction and repairs of buildings – that’s using long-term financing to fund long-term assets. It makes no sense, though, to borrow money on 20+ year maturities and use it to buy iPads that have a 3 to 5 year useful life. It’s equivalent to planning on paying a car loan over 30 years – total mismatch between the funding and the life of the asset, which implies an ever-increasing upward spiral of debt as these iPads are replaced in the future.

    • Lory Gil

      That is a good point. It seems like iPads should be placed under the category of “supplies” the way school books are instead of “technology modernization” the way computers are. But then, I guess people would start the “Teachers not iPads” campaign. Maybe there really is no good place for this advanced technology in the public school system.