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More questions on L.A. Unified's iPad program, but few answers

District officials say they hope to present a fuller picture of the costs and other issues next week.

October 23, 2013|By Howard Blume

Los Angeles school district officials acknowledged Tuesday that they understated the cost of providing iPads to students, but also said the deal could ultimately save millions of dollars.

The L.A. Unified School District hopes to provide a tablet to every student and teacher, and, for months, has reported the cost as $678 per device. But a revised budget released Monday found that the tablets could cost as much as $770.

The previous amount, officials said Tuesday, did not include taxes and a mandatory recycling fee. Once those costs are added in, the price rises to about $744, said Daphne Congdon, a district information technology administrator. The cost rises to $770 if the district buys fewer than about 520,000 devices, because it wouldn't qualify for a volume discount until it pays Apple Inc. $400 million.

The price of the tablets was one of many budget items that came up at back-to-back L.A. Unified meetings Tuesday. For some key questions, district staff said they had no immediate answers and promised they would be able to report more at a meeting next week.

Among the postponed issues was how the district hopes to sustain the cost of its technology program in the future. Wait for next week, frustrated panel members were told.

"You don't have much time left it seems to me," said panel member Steve English, who represents a group that oversees school district construction spending. The iPads are being paid for with taxpayer-approved school construction bond funds.

The nation's second-largest school system has described its technology initiative as an "amazing" success, and said few problems have emerged at most of the 40 schools that have received devices to date.

But at three campuses more than 300 students deleted security filters, allowing them to freely browse the Internet and prompting officials to suspend the use of iPads at these high schools.

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.

If the district follows through with plans to distribute about 650,000 devices, the district's negotiated 3% rebate from Apple will total about $13.5 million, Chief Facilities Executive Mark Hovatter said.

That discount is an improvement over the district's past contracts with Apple, and based on purchasing more than 500,000 tablets, Hovatter said.

"We took a risk but it was our expectation that we would move forward" and purchase tablets for every student, he said.

The total for the initiative is about $1 billion, with about half the cost going for the iPads and the other half paying for training, improving schools' Internet access and other costs.

The iPads have a presumed life — and a limited warranty — of three years, although they could last considerably longer.

In earlier meetings, officials said they hoped to cover future technology costs with money that currently is used to buy textbooks, about $50 million a year.

But to date, the state still requires the purchase of traditional textbooks, said Gerardo Loera, the head of district curriculum. Officials haven't been able to say how soon the district could give up textbooks or whether electronic texts would cost less — thus offsetting the cost of replacement iPads.

The meetings also dealt with the curriculum for the iPads, which is provided by Pearson Education Inc. through a contract between Pearson and Apple.

The Pearson curriculum is incomplete. Teachers have been told to use sample units as part of a planned transition, then make the full switch next year.

At Tuesday's meetings, officials noted that the license for updated Pearson material is for three years. Beyond that period, the district would have to enter into a new contract.

Officials said they had no details about how much the Pearson materials cost because the district's contract was only with Apple.

"When did the three-year [Pearson] contract start?" asked parent and panel member Raquel Cedillo, unhappy about the lack of details. "When will Pearson be done" with the curriculum?

Pearson is on schedule for this year, which is intended as a transition period, Loera said.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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