L.A. Unified to offer students Chromebooks in addition to iPads

27 schools set to get iPads will now have a choice of getting less-expensive Chromebooks

IPads or Chromebooks?

Los Angeles school officials want to give schools more choices in equipping students with new computers, part of an ongoing evolution of the district's approach to buying and using technology.

Under a new plan, 27 schools that were originally set to receive iPads, made by Apple, now will also have the choice of choosing a less-expensive Chromebook, which uses a Google operating system.

"We're trying to gear this around giving choices to the schools," said Mark Hovatter, who heads the facilities division for L.A. Unified.

This group of schools is getting computers under a plan approved in January by the Board of Education. Since then, the districtwide $1.3-billion effort to provide every student, teacher and campus administrator with a computer has ground nearly to a halt.

Even these 27 schools were in limbo after then-Supt. John Deasy suspended purchases under the district's iPad contract in August. Deasy acted after disclosures of close contacts between him, his chief deputy and executives of Apple and Pearson, the company that provided the curriculum on the electronic devices. Deasy said he made the move to respond to new opportunities in the technology marketplace.

Deasy resigned under pressure in October over a variety of issues, including disputes with the school board and problems with a new student records system. His successor, Ramon C. Cortines, inherited the decision about what to do next with the district's technology project.

At the urging of senior staff, Cortines agreed to let the 27 schools proceed with ordering computers. But he also has expanded their options, giving them the opportunity to choose Chromebooks. The district has negotiated contracts that would allow schools to buy Chromebooks made by Samsung, Acer or Dell.

This transition from a single vendor and single contract has been underway for nearly a year.

"It's normal to think in terms of economy of scale, that bigger is better, but it's not always true in all circumstances," Hovatter said. The original iPad contract will remain available to make purchases, but "we think the market might drive a better price."

The other push has been to provide options for schools, which might have different needs for different classes or for students of different ages.

The nation's second-largest school system already had decided to try out more-expensive, non-Chromebook laptops at 21 high schools.

All the computers have been paid for with school construction bonds.

Cortines opposes the use of these bonds for buying digital curriculum although the upcoming purchases will include it. The curriculum for the iPads adds about $200 per device for a three-year license. The cost of the iPads is $768 apiece; the Chromebooks with curriculum are expected to be $100 to $200 less.

One new computer purchase is expected to come before the Board of Education this month. To help administer new computer-based state tests, senior officials will ask the board to approve $22 million to pay for up to 14,875 iPads and 4,000 Chromebooks.

To date, the district has bought about 91,000 devices under the iPad contract; the original plan was to buy about 650,000.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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