Senior Los Angeles school district officials, including Supt. John Deasy, had a close working relationship with Apple and Pearson executives before these companies won the key contract for a $1-billion effort to provide computers to every student in the nation’s second-largest school system, records released by the L.A. school district show.
The first deal, approved in June 2013 by the Board of Education, was intended as the initial step in a speedy districtwide expansion. Under it, all students, teachers and principals were to receive iPads from Apple that would be loaded with curriculum developed by Pearson. A year later, after pressure from critics and problems with the roll out, the timetable for the project was extended; other curricula and other devices also are being tried out at schools.
Deasy recused himself from the initial bidding process because he owned Apple stock, but the records indicate that he and other district officials had developed ties with the potential to benefit the firms.
The Los Angeles County district attorney's office has reviewed a report by the district's inspector general and found that there was no criminal wrongdoing in the bidding process.
No evidence has emerged from the records that Deasy tried to steer the results once the process began. But in the period leading up to the bidding, the district and corporate executives collaborated closely.
According to the documents, Pearson appeared to be directly involved with Deputy Supt. Jaime Aquino in developing L.A. Unified's five-year technology plan, which was approved by the Board of Education in May 2012.
A May 24 email from Pearson executive Judy Codding to Aquino and another senior official is titled: “Creating a plan that merges Jaime’s team’s work and the proposed plan that emerged from the 5/18/2012 meeting.”
The email tackles the subject of how to pay for an online curriculum, especially one provided by Pearson.
In it, Codding writes: “Jaime, I think everything you said makes sense to me. Yes everything would come out of the textbook fund. The price would be just as you and I discussed,” Codding wrote.
Elsewhere in the email chain, Aquino asks: “Will our board support this expenditure in midst of massive layoffs?”
Aquino also wrote: “I am not sure if legally we can enter into an agreement when we have not reviewed the final product for each grade and if the materials have not been approved by the state."
Further, he said: "I believe we would have to make sure that your bid is the lowest one.”
Deasy was one of the last to participate in that email exchange and made his comments after Aquino's. He thanks Aquino for his contribution, adding: “Understand your points and we need to work together on this quickly. I want to not loose [sic] an amazing opportunity and fully recognize our current limits.”
It isn’t clear which of Aquino’s points the superintendent is supporting.
In another email on May 24, Aquino writes to Deasy: “My major concern is that there are a lot of unanswered questions particularly financial/political/infrastructure implications. Let’s see what we can get resolved in our call with Judy.” He was apparently referring to Judy Codding of Pearson.
Deasy responds: “I am in agreement. I will call shortly about my pending talks with Apple.”
In a May 22, 2012, email, then-Pearson Chief Executive Marjorie Scardino tells Deasy how much he impresses her.
“My mind was racing all weekend, and I was so impressed by your intelligent and committed and brave hold on the moving parts of the opportunity. I really can’t wait to work with you. I would love to think that we could together do this so well that in your Sunday visits to prisons you won’t see one person who has been educated in LAUSD; rather, you’ll be meeting them as teachers, as contractors, as bankers (well, maybe not bankers), as poets all round the city.”
Less than two months later, on July 2, Deasy updates Scardino about his meeting with Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple.
“I wanted to let you know I have [sic] an excellent meeting with Tim at Apple last Friday. The meeting went very well and he was committed to being a partner. He said he and his team will take 5 days to present a price plan and scope of partnership. He was very excited about being a partner with Pearson. I think it would be good for you to loop back with him at this point. I will reach out to you again in a week.”
In one communication, Pearson’s Codding argued that competitive bidding through a “Request for Proposals” process was unnecessary, but the school system decided otherwise.
The bidding period began in March 2013. Months later, three finalists emerged for the Board of Education to choose from. Each proposal included a device paired with an online curriculum. All three used Pearson for the curriculum. Two of the proposals were for iPads—one from Apple, one from a third-party vendor. On the recommendation of staff, the board approved the Apple/Pearson bid after a brief discussion.
The emails, documents and other records were released in response to requests under the California Public Records Act that The Times first made nearly a year ago. The district initially released some of these records only to KPCC-FM (89.3), which on Friday was the first to report on some of these disclosures. The district then released the documents to The Times.
On Thursday, The Times reported separately on the draft of a district committee report that found the bidding process to be flawed. The report concluded that district actions could have created the appearance that the process was unfair.
Deasy said Thursday that he could not comment on the report because he had not read it. He added that it had not been provided to him for review. He could not be reached Friday night for a response to the disclosed emails.
Aquino, who left the district at the end of last year, has declined requests for interviews.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment Friday. A Pearson spokesperson was unable to provide a response Friday night.