Debugging LAUSD's iPad deal

There is a need for transparency on LAUSD's iPad contract

There is no room for secrecy when it comes to the billion-dollar technology project undertaken by the Los Angeles Unified School District and its superintendent, John Deasy. Not after the release of emails that reveal early and extensive communication among Deasy, his top deputy and the two large companies that later won board support for supplying every student with an iPad. Or after the publication last week of a report by the district's technology committee that criticized the swift approval of the contract with Apple and Pearson.

It's past time for another, older report on the iPad contract, this one by the district's inspector general, to be made public as well. That report details an investigation into the procurement process. When that investigation was concluded, the inspector general forwarded the report to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, which determined that no criminal charges were warranted.

The size of the iPad purchase prompted skepticism from the start, especially because of the early decision to devote the entire contract to one device and one set of software, even though the Pearson curriculum was not complete — and still isn't. That's why the inspector general investigated, and the public has the right to know about these and any other documents or information related to the purchase. (The school board later decided to slow the purchase and look into buying a wider range of products, such as laptops for high school students. And last week, Deasy said he was suspending future purchases.)

The problem lies with the state law authorizing an inspector general for L.A. Unified. "Investigations," which examine possible lawbreaking, are considered confidential, but "audits" are not, a distinction that may make sense while inquiries are ongoing but that loses its justification when, as in this case, the investigation is over and questions remain. Fortunately, the school board has the authority to make the investigative reports public, and it should do so with this one at its next meeting. The board should encourage the inspector general to begin a new inquiry that delves into the emails and other issues leading up to the bidding (the existing report did not cover those communications), and the board should make the results of that public as well once the district attorney's office has reviewed it.

Moreover, the law should be amended so that the inspector general follows the usual state rules on public records. Transparency is ultimately better for the district as well as the public. As the iPad controversy has demonstrated, secrecy only breeds suspicion and undermines the entire point of the inspector general.

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