An effort to silence a critic of the Los Angeles school district's $1-billion technology program backfired Tuesday, when the Board of Education quietly returned him Tuesday to an oversight panel.
The move by the school board to reappoint architect Stuart Magruder to the Bond Oversight Committee was hailed as a victory by his colleagues and supporters as well as by critics of the Los Angeles Unified School District and its technology effort.
"The board did what we hoped and expected them to do — the right thing," said Quynh Nguyen, who attended the meeting as part of a delegation from the watchdog panel. "Once board members had time to think about it, they recognized the importance of independence and that the public also recognizes the value of independent oversight."
Magruder, 47, was a frequent critic of the district's effort to provide a computer to every student, teacher and school administrator in the nation's second-largest school system. The program is expected to exhaust all of the technology money available from the voter-approved bonds.
The district's original choice of device was the iPad, which officials had planned to distribute on a rapid timetable. But in response to critics, including Magruder, the school system has slowed the rollout and also looked anew at other devices.
Board member Tamar Galatzan, an ardent backer of the iPad effort, led the earlier move against Magruder, unleashing a torrent of protest. The board last month had refused to grant Magruder a second, two-year term on the panel, which has no authority to enforce its recommendations.
Galatzan has accused Magruder of improperly intruding into instructional decisions. She also accused Magruder of voting against projects unless they used architects. Magruder has denied that allegation.
Other members of the panel defended his integrity.
Committee members are unpaid and not allowed to have any financial ties to the school system.
Magruder was the nominee of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, one of several groups allowed to select a member for the panel. The school board, which chooses two parent members, is required to ratify the choice of each outside group. There is disagreement over whether it has the authority to reject a nominee.
Magruder had strong support from board members Monica Ratliff, Steve Zimmer and Bennett Kayser, who proposed the reappointment.
The needed fourth vote came from board President Richard Vladovic. At last month's meeting, Vladovic had opposed Magruder in deference to Galatzan, saying she had "done the homework" and he had not.
In an interview, Vladovic said he has since looked into Magruder's record. Vladovic added that it was important to confirm that Magruder had the support of Supt. John Deasy, who has been at odds with the oversight committee during the iPad project.
"I don't want to stifle anyone's thoughts," Vladovic said. "I want to hear thoughts that are contrary to the official position."
Two board members opposed his reappointment: Galatzan and Monica Garcia.
Garcia declined to comment. Through a spokeswoman, Galatzan said she had not altered her views on Magruder. During the meeting, she called for an audit of the bond panel, which is supposed to occur annually, but has not. She wants the review to go back seven years.
Galatzan has criticized the watchdog panel on various issues — in some cases faulting it for providing too little oversight.
Deasy has delegated the audit to the district's inspector general, L.A. Unified spokesman Thomas Waldman said.
Magruder, a district parent, was not present at the meeting, but he quickly tweeted his gratitude for the support that had come his way.
"Here's to an engaged public and an active press!" he wrote.