Kumbaya at the L.A. school board?

The Los Angeles Unified school board members were conspicuously courteous to the administration staff and to one another at last week's meeting, their first since the hullabaloo over Supt. John Deasy's resignation threat. The board and Deasy smoothed that one over, but it was clear that the new, less reform-oriented board majority would have to address its tendency to micromanage and obstruct the administration.

Last week was the first public test of whether the board could change. And the results, overall, were good.

It helped, in ways, that the meeting was devoted to the troubled plan to provide every student in the district with an iPad. This is one area in which the previous board majority, which was more aligned with Deasy's agenda, failed to ask certain basic questions before approving the billion-dollar project.

This time, led mostly by its newest member, Monica Ratliff, the board asked more penetrating questions. It was clear about its goals and about which direction to take. Poor students need access to technology, which is reshaping education and the work world. A project to equip L.A. Unified's students will go forward. But that doesn't mean it will happen as fast as the administration wants or necessarily with all the same equipment.

Interestingly, most of the grandstanding and hyperbole in the meeting was not by the board but by a defensive Deputy Supt. Jaime Aquino. At one point, referring to students who swiftly found an end-run around the iPads' inadequate security system, he downplayed and mischaracterized the problem, saying that they had merely "personalized" their tablets. Several times, he disparagingly referred to criticism of the project as "noise," until he was gently upbraided by board member Steve Zimmer, who reminded him that there were valid concerns in that noise.

Ratliff introduced a motion, which the board will consider Tuesday, to slow the rollout, sticking to the relatively small Phase 1 purchase of 45,000 iPads through this academic year while the district tries to resolve such issues as theft, breakage and security, and to study whether using a mix of equipment, not just iPads, might work better. Those are good ideas, worthy of approval.

Counterproposals are expected on Tuesday; the board should stay focused on doing this project carefully rather than quickly.

The board set the right example at last week's meeting, refusing to rubber-stamp Deasy's initiatives while doing a businesslike job of asking well-researched questions. It dropped the hostile tone that has characterized many previous meetings while putting the good of students, rather than ideology, at the forefront. We hope to see more of that.

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