Apple Inc. won a $30-million contract Tuesday from the L.A. Unified School District, paving the way for the company to provide every student with an iPad in the nation's second-largest school system.
The Board of Education voted 6 to 0 on Tuesday to approve the contract after hearing senior staff laud Apple's product as both the best in quality and the least expensive option that met the district's specifications.
Tuesday's vote authorized an iPad rollout at 47 campuses. However, by choosing Apple as the sole vendor, the district also made a de facto commitment to spend hundreds of millions of dollars with the Cupertino, Calif.-based digital giant over the next two years.
The tablet computer by Apple "received the highest scoring by the students and the teachers," who took part in testing different devices, said Deputy Supt. Jaime Aquino.
Board members Steve Zimmer and Richard Vladovic expressed the most concerns. Zimmer questioned whether devices other than tablets were more fitting for high school students. Vladovic worried that the board lacked detailed information on costs.
"This is one of the most high-profile contracts this board will ever approve," Zimmer said. This contract is "as big as they come."
"I can sleep tonight with my conscience clear," Aquino responded, "that you did the right thing for kids."
The district is paying $678 per device -- higher than tablets available in stores -- but the machines will be pre-loaded with educational software. The price does not include a keyboard, which may be necessary for older students.
Vladovic noted that he had dropped and broken two iPads and that students also would break them.
The three-year warranty includes free replacement machines up to 5% of the value of the purchase, he was told.
A Microsoft representative urged the board to pilot more than one product and not to rely on one platform. Doing so could cut off the district from future price reductions and innovations, said Robyn Hines, senior director of state government affairs for Microsoft.
Hines also noted that more businesses still use Microsoft platforms, and that students should be exposed to machines they will encounter in the workplace.
"A one-size-fits-all approach" would limit important options, she said.
But district staff countered that Apple offered the superior product and some students shouldn't have to use a lesser one. They also said that students and teachers often change schools and should not have to learn a different platform.
Teachers union president Warren Fletcher urged a delay in the vote and said resources should be focused on rehiring needed staff.
Officials said they opposed a delay in part because new state and national tests will be taken on computers, and they don't want Los Angeles students to lack the necessary experience with them.
Chief Strategy Officer Matt Hill also noted that the funding is from facility bonds, which can't be used to hire regular school staff.
This source of funding also has been controversial because school bonds are typically used for construction and paid off over decades.
The teachers union also criticized L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy for appearing in an Apple promotional video prior to the bidding process.
Deasy said he abstained from involvement in the decision -- not because of the video but because he owned a small amount of stock in Apple. He left the board room prior to consideration of the contract for the same reason.
Board member Bennett Kayser and general counsel David Holmquist also left the chamber because they own some stock in Apple.