L.A. schools Supt. Deasy defends his dealings with Apple, Pearson

LAUSD Supt. John Deasy issues memo defending his dealings with Apple, Pearson on iPad program

Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy on Tuesday issued his most extensive and passionate defense yet of his actions involving Apple and Pearson, the companies that received the major contract in a $1.3-billion technology program. He asserted that he did nothing improper before or during the bidding process.

Under the plan, Apple was to provide iPads to every student, teacher and campus administrator in the nation's second-largest school system. Pearson was to provide the curriculum.

Last week, however, Deasy halted future purchases under that contract, saying that Los Angeles Unified needed to start anew to include "lessons learned" about the project and to benefit from advances in technology. At that time, the deal was coming under scrutiny, with an internal report that was sharply critical and emails that appeared to show special relationships among Deasy, other top district officials and the companies that ultimately won the contract.

In a six-page memo to the Board of Education on Tuesday, Deasy defended the original deal and decried the time lost in getting technology to students.

"Today, even though we have taken advantage of a number of opportunities to constantly improve processes associated with this work, this extremely important initiative for the youth of LAUSD has been sidetracked by insinuations, innuendoes, and misleading statements," he wrote.

Critics, including three Board of Education members and the head of the teachers union, have raised concerns about whether Deasy and then-Deputy Supt. Jaime Aquino had inappropriate dealings with executives from Apple and Pearson.

The district's inspector general is taking a second, deeper look at what happened.

Without naming anyone, Deasy took aim at those who, he said, have been trying to exploit the iPad issue.

"In view of the many false and misleading statements of fact that have been made public for what seems to be primarily political reasons, I believe it is incumbent on me to set the record straight," he wrote. "It is time to put the learning of students first."

He added: "No violations of any legal requirements took place."

Board member Steve Zimmer said he and his colleagues are simply doing their job in reexamining such an expensive and important project.

To date, the district has spent about $61 million to purchase 109,000 iPads along with carts to store and charge the devices; 62,000 of those iPads have the Pearson curriculum.

In the memo, Deasy stood by discussions with Apple and Pearson that took place in the year leading up the bidding, according to records.

Deasy initially had said that these conversations involved only a small, free pilot program at two schools. The emails suggested otherwise, and Deasy acknowledged, for perhaps the first time Tuesday, that the discussions with Pearson went further.

"There were many discussions with Dr. Aquino and his staff about doing a more extensive and paid pilot in the fall of 2012 but it never occurred," Deasy wrote, adding that Aquino and his staff also "held discussions with other technology and curriculum vendors."

Deasy said he moved away from a larger, paid deal with Pearson because, "we should not do any more pilots where some youths would have an advantage over others and instead we should provide content and technology for all of the LAUSD youth."

Portions of the emails suggest L.A. Unified might expand districtwide with Pearson, perhaps without competitive bidding.

Deasy told the board that working with vendors and outside experts is part of his job.

"It is extremely important for any superintendent and staff to meet with people all over the country at conferences, in symposiums and individual discussions in order to keep current about what the best research is saying and learn about the most effective emerging practices," he said.

The same rationale applied to Aquino, said Deasy, who praised his former deputy. Aquino left L.A. Unified at the end of last year.

The superintendent also made a clear distinction between the formal bidding process — in which he said he had no role — and the period leading up to it.

Deasy said he had no choice but to recuse himself from the bidding because he owned "15 shares of Apple stock valued at $7,793.70." He later sold these holdings.

The superintendent said he views his relationships with vendors as he does the relationships board members have with those same people. "I see this as no different from when a vendor or researcher attends a political event or fundraiser for a Board Member or potential candidate for the Board, and then at some date in the future, the Board Member votes to award a contract to that vendor."

Separately, The Times learned Tuesday that board member Monica Ratliff would seek the release of an internal investigation into the contract by the district's inspector general.

That report has been confidential but the board has the authority to make it public with a majority vote.

Ratliff's proposal, which she will introduce next week, would make public "any report or reports prepared by its Office of the Inspector General relating to the procurement process" for the iPads. Her resolution would direct that future reports also be released "as soon as practicable."

Board member Bennett Kayser is co-sponsoring Ratliff's proposal; Zimmer also supports it.

The inspector general's inquiry, completed this year, focused narrowly on the period of the formal bidding process. That report was reviewed by the L.A. County district attorney's office, which concluded that no criminal charges were warranted.

howard.blume@latimes.com

Twitter: @howardblume

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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