D.A. says no charges warranted over L.A. schools’ iPad contract
The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has reviewed an internal L.A. school district report on its iPad contract and concluded that criminal charges are not warranted.
The report, which has not been released publicly, raises issues about the handling of the bidding process, according to L.A. Unified School District officials who spoke anonymously because they are not authorized to discuss it.
Apple’s iPad was selected in June as the device to be provided to every student, teacher and campus administrator in the nation’s second-largest school system. The district is using voter-approved school construction bonds for the purchases.
The $1-billion-plus effort has been plagued by difficulties that delayed the first distribution of the iPads at 47 schools last fall. These issues included problems with wireless networks and security and inconsistent policies on whether students and parents would be responsible for the costly devices.
Early on, students at three high schools deleted security filters so they could browse the Web freely. Officials also have come under fire for misstating costs and terms of the deal. More recently, officials revisited the decision to purchase solely iPads.
The scope of the internal inquiry, conducted by L.A. Unified’s inspector general, was limited mainly to the bidding process that resulted in the selection of a vendor team led by Apple.
Prosecutors from the public integrity division reviewed the internal inquiry, focused on whether there was a criminal conflict of interest, district attorney spokeswoman Jane Robison said. “We closed it out in March,” she said. “No charges will be filed.”
L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy said he was unable to comment on the report or the district attorney’s investigation.
“I have not seen the report yet,” Deasy said. “Nor have I been given a copy.”
Some district officials cited the report’s confidentiality for their unwillingness to comment. Others said they didn’t want to discuss the report until it had been fully distributed among senior staff and the Board of Education.
Nonetheless, some officials and district staff, speaking not for attribution, said the 18-page report noted potential problems.
For one, scoring sheets used to rate different vendors competing for the contract had been lost, hampering efforts to assess whether the rankings of different vendors were fair or reasonable, they said.
The initial contract was worth about $30 million. About half of the ultimate billion-dollar tab is expected to go to the provider of the device and the curriculum software. Much of the remaining cost would go toward building wireless infrastructure across the sprawling system of more than 1,000 schools.
After winning the bidding competition, the iPad was considered locked in for the entire multiyear effort, but officials now are considering other devices and other providers. Among the issues are the cost of the iPads and whether laptops would be a more useful device for older students.
Another matter raised in the L.A. Unified probe was that one of the members of the review panel responsible for evaluating the bids owned a moderate amount of Apple stock, officials and others said. That individual may have not disclosed this conflict early enough, they said. This person was allowed to remain on the panel after the disclosure.
Deasy, who has acknowledged owning some Apple stock, was not involved in evaluating the bidders. He later sold his holdings.
The review by the inspector general also looked at Pearson, a British firm that has provided the curriculum on the iPads as a key piece of the Apple contract.
Pearson has gotten into trouble in New York state for some of its business practices. In December, Pearson agreed to pay $7.7 million to settle allegations that its charitable foundation illegally drummed up business on behalf of the for-profit wing.
Pearson is ubiquitous across the education sector, helping to design the new high school equivalency test as well as tests to measure new curriculum standards adopted by 44 states, including California. L.A. Unified already was using a Pearson math program districtwide before the Apple contract.
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