Stuart Magruder probably isn't the most get-along member of the bond oversight committee for the Los Angeles Unified School District. And that's OK. The top priority of a member of the bond committee is not to make friends but to protect fiercely both taxpayer money and the students of L.A. Unified, to ensure that the billions of dollars voted for construction and equipment in the school district are wisely spent
Magruder has been one of the committee's most outspoken members on the topic of the school district's iPad purchase, raising questions that the school board and Supt. John Deasy should have asked and answered themselves. As a result, Magruder was seen as meddling, and last month the board refused to confirm his reappointment to the committee.
This was a terrible move on several fronts. The school district needs more people like Magruder, not fewer. The original, sweeping, billion-dollar plan to purchase an iPad for every student and teacher was passed by the board with a disturbing swiftness and lack of critical thinking. Was this very expensive purchase an appropriate use of bond money? The devices generally last only a few years; bond funding is supposed to be for long-term capital improvements. Who would be responsible for lost or stolen iPads? Would students take them home or use them only in school? Why did the purchase include pre-loaded curriculum software, which had not yet been completed or reviewed (and that generally may not be purchased with bond money in any case)? Why buy expensive iPads that were about to be replaced with a new model?
Magruder asked many of these questions, and board member Monica Ratliff, who was elected after the initial vote, delved into the matter further and voiced new concerns. The project's rollout was then slowed and a new contract was negotiated with Apple that reduced the price by eliminating the software and ensured that going forward, the district would buy the latest model, not older ones.
Yes-men are easy enough to find, but L.A. Unified doesn't need more of them. It needs smart people to protect bond dollars from misuse. Rather than seeking to get rid of Magruder, the district should be grateful to him, even if his presence sometimes makes the board's job a little tougher and less comfortable.
The board's vote to rid itself of Magruder sent a message that the district doesn't want to deal with critics or answer tough questions. Now it has a chance to right this mistake when it reconsiders the Magruder reappointment Tuesday. It should keep him, recognizing that sometimes its biggest critics are its best friends.