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L.A. school board restores iPad critic to oversight panel

Los Angeles Unified School DistrictApple iPadJohn Deasy
Magruder had been faulted for questioning instructional decisions, but backers called him a watchdog
Board restores Magruder with virtually no discussion.

A critic of the Los Angeles Unified School District's $1-billion technology program has been restored to the panel that oversees the spending of voter-approved bonds.

Architect Stuart Magruder, 47, who lost his seat in May, was returned to the school system's Bond Oversight Committee on Tuesday when the Board of Education voted 4 to 2 in his favor.

The action reversed the board's previous action in which members refused to grant Magruder a second two-year term.

Magruder was a frequent critic of the district's efforts to provide a computer to every student, teacher and school administrator. The program is expected to cost well over $1 billion — all of the technology money available from these bonds. The district’s original choice of device was the iPad, which officials planned to distribute to all on a rapid timetable.

In response to input from critics, including Magruder, the school system has slowed down the project and also looked anew at other devices.

Board member Tamar Galatzan has been among the most ardent backers of the iPad effort, and she led the earlier move against Magruder.

That action unleashed a torrent of protest; critics accused the board of trying to interfere with the independence of the oversight body. That panel's recommendations can be influential, but they are not binding on the Board of Education.

At the May meeting and in interviews, Galatzan accused Magruder of improperly intruding into instructional decisions. She also criticized Magruder for allegedly insisting on architecture services as a condition for every project that he would approve.

Magruder has denied that allegation and other members of the panel defended his integrity. The oversight committee unanimously called on the school board to reconsider.

Magruder, also a district parent, remained 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 selects 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.

Board members sidestepped that issue in simply agreeing to restore Magruder. As expected, Steve Zimmer, Bennett Kayser and Monica Ratliff voted in his favor.

The needed fourth vote came from board President Richard Vladovic. At the earlier meeting, Vladovic had deferred to Galatzan, saying she had done the homework on Magruder and he had not. He was willing to join her in opposing Magruder at the time.

In an interview, Vladovic said he had reflected since that previous vote and looked into Magruder's record. He added that Supt. John Deasy also told him that he recommended a vote for Magruder.

"I don’t want to stifle anyone’s thoughts if I can help it," Vladovic said. "I want to hear thoughts that are contrary to the official position so I can look at and hear things."

Through a spokeswoman, Galatzan said she had not altered her views, but she didn't comment on Magruder during the meeting. Instead, she called for an audit of the Bond Oversight Committee. She said the district was supposed to perform such a review annually, but had not done so. She wants the audit to go back seven years.

Galatzan has criticized the watchdog panel on various issues — in some cases faulting it for providing too little oversight.

Board member Monica Garcia also opposed reappointing Magruder to the panel. She declined to comment on her vote.

Deasy has turned over the audit request to the district's inspector general for followup, said L.A. Unified spokesman Thomas Waldman.

Magruder was not present at Tuesday's meeting, saying that he wanted to avoid the appearance of being confrontational. But he quckly tweeted out his gratitude for public support that had come his way.

"Here's to an engaged public and an active press!" he wrote. "Back on the BOC!"

Also Tuesday, the board heard testimony from various groups about its budget plan for next year. The board is scheduled to vote on a final budget next week.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Los Angeles Unified School DistrictApple iPadJohn Deasy
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