LOCAL L.A. Now

Facebook page promotes campus repairs over iPads in L.A. schools

Critics of a $1-billion school computer project in Los Angeles have launched an increasingly popular Facebook page asserting that the money should be spent instead on campus repairs.

The page, called “Repairs Not IPads,” was started anonymously but has been supplied with ample comments and pictures by school staff. The images include missing ceiling tiles, broken sinks and water fountains, ant invasions, dead roaches and rat droppings.

The creators describe the page as, “a place for teachers & the community to document neglected school repairs while construction bond $$ is diverted to purchase iPads.”

Overall, many teachers have supported the technology program in the L.A. Unified School District, while many others have expressed concerns. It has the goal of providing a personal computing device to every student, teacher and school administrator. District officials originally selected iPads for this effort, which launched at 47 schools in the fall. Other options are being considered as the project moves forward.

The effort is being funded with school-construction bonds, which has become a point of contention. L.A. Unified estimates that schools need $40 billion in repairs and there’s only about $7 billion remaining in voter-approved bonds.

“Who the hell cares about iPads when you have all these other problems in the schools. So SAD!” wrote one poster.

“Somebody is making big bucks off this iPad deal and distracting people with gadgets,” another commenter stated. “I went to LAUSD schools and even back then they were crumbling.”

“Your toilets are as disgusting as your [graduation] success rate,” asserted a third.

Of course, there also are divergent views, such as a commenter who suggested that the teacher who took the photo of an overflowing wastebasket could have spent the time emptying the trash.

But more posts were closer to the perspective of this one: “YUK! Rat droppings at Middle school. Second time in two weeks! Will an iPad make this OK?”

District officials have pointed out that about $1 billion from bond funds is eligible to be spent on technology, which in the past has meant outfitting computers labs in schools. L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy won board approval to expand this definition to include a portable computer for each student. Much of the money also is being spent on upgrading computer networks at schools.

"All students deserve access to technology and schools also should be clean and safe environments,” said spokeswoman Shannon Haber. “We believe these shouldn’t be competing interests.”

The district has spent more than $20 billion in recent years to build new schools and repair and modernize older campuses.

Robert Laughton, the district's deputy director of maintenance and operations, decided to take an upbeat approach, calling the Facebook page another way to learn about problems at schools.

Currently, such issues can be reported by plant managers and by calling a hotline: (213) 745-1600. Computer users can go to laschools.org, click maintenance and operations and then click service requests. Smartphone users can download an application to make reports.

School employees have said that sometimes the response is immediate and effective. Other times, not so much.

Laughton noted that his department already has repaired broken ceiling tiles at Franklin that were pictured on the page.

Some critics have asserted that L.A. Unified is paying more for technology than necessary or spending down its technology funds without a clear plan on how to sustain the effort in the future.  

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Twitter: @howardblume | howard.blume@latimes.com

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