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School iPads to cost nearly $100 more each, revised budget shows

The L.A. Unified School District will spend $770 per iPad, a 14% increase over earlier cost estimates, the revised budget shows.

October 22, 2013|By Howard Blume

Providing Apple iPads to Los Angeles students will cost nearly $100 more apiece — or $770 per tablet, a new school district budget shows.

This potential sticker shock can be avoided, but only after the L.A. Unified School District has spent at least $400 million for the devices. In other words, the district would have to buy nearly 520,000 iPads before getting lower prices. Officials did not answer questions Monday about how much the district would then spend on the remaining tablets.

The newly disclosed price, a 14% increase per iPad, appeared in a revised budget released in advance of a public meeting Tuesday on the $1-billion project.

The new spending plan for the first part of the project delays some costs and shifts others.

The goal is to provide iPads to every teacher and student, so officials remain optimistic about achieving the discount, even though start-up problems emerged immediately this fall. More than 300 students deleted security filters, allowing them to browse the Internet freely and prompting officials to suspend use of iPads at three campuses.

Parents also have expressed confusion about their responsibility for the devices. And officials have yet to purchase mechanical keyboards that will be necessary to use the iPads on new standardized tests.

The earlier cost estimate for each iPad "preceded the actual procurement process," the district said Monday in response to questions from The Times. "The negotiated discount [i.e. $678] does not go into effect until the district has reached the $400-million spending threshold."

The structure of the deal raises the stakes for what L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy recently referred to as a "pilot test." If the district pulls out of the deal, or buys fewer tablets from Apple Inc., the iPads become considerably more expensive.

The district began the rollout of the tablets with a $50-million budget that is supposed to outfit all students and teachers with iPads at 47 schools. That cost includes training and upgrading wireless Internet at these campuses.

That budget allotted $20.3 million for iPads, based on an early estimate of $650 per device. The revised budget adds more than $4 million for the tablets.

Another higher cost is classroom carts, which are used to charge the iPads and keep them secure. The cost for this first phase rose to $3.2 million from $2.6 million.

To keep the overall budget at $50 million, the district postponed some elements, such as a system for providing online courses. It also shifted costs to the general fund, which is used for basic operations. That shift is relatively small, about $550,000 at this point, although it's unclear whether more expenses would be transferred in the future.

The iPad project is funded almost entirely with school-construction bonds, a strategy that has attracted some criticism.

The price per device, higher than retail, includes a protective case, a limited three-year warranty, technical assistance and training, and one Apple TV setup per 20 students. The cost also includes curriculum from Pearson Education Inc. that is still being developed.

Overall, "we are right where we want to be," according to a written copy of the budget presentation.

Another topic at Tuesday's meeting will be the progress in getting schools ready for iPads.

In December 2011, the Board of Education approved broadband network upgrades for 138 schools. In the two years since, 40 projects have been completed; 39 more are in the construction phase.

Separately, 74 additional campuses were authorized in June. Of these, none have been completed, but nearly all are underway. The district has more than 1,000 schools.

Last week, Deasy proposed extending the schedule for completing the iPad distribution by a year, from December 2014 to December 2015, to deal with logistical challenges and as a response to critics inside and outside the system who say L.A. Unified is taking on too much too quickly.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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