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Let a Citizen Watchdog Do His Job: Keep Architect Stuart Magruder on the Bond Oversight Committee

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The question for many school districts around the country this spring was this: how are they supposed to give computer-based, end-of-year Common Core State Standards (CCSS) tests?

For over a year in Los Angeles Unified, parents, students, teachers, and community members have wrestled with the details of Superintendent John Deasy's 1:1 iPad program and its $1 billion price tag. The second-largest school district in the nation serves about 650,000 K-12 students.

Disagreements over the iPad program are now culminating in a battle to re-appoint one of the most vocal watchdogs of the program, an architect and citizen volunteer named Stuart Magruder, to the Bond Oversight Committee that is supposed to vet funds that pay for the iPad rollout.

On Tuesday, June 10, 2014, we'll find out if LAUSD school board member Tamar Galatzan is successful with her argument that the school board need not honor a 2002 Memorandum of Understanding between the school board and the American Institute of Architects (Los Angeles) as key appointer of an architect to the Bond Oversight Committee. (The MOU says that the AIA appoints and the LAUSD school board is simply the body that approves the AIA's pick.) Now Bennett Kayser, a second LAUSD school board member, has joined the fray saying he opposes Galatzan and believes the AIA's appointment should be approved by the LAUSD school board.

Superintendent Deasy's iPad rollout has been rife with problems since the fall of 2013, when reporters began questioning key terms of the district's deal with Apple: was it ok to use $1 billion for iPads paid for by 25-year facilities bond funds when voters thought they were voting to fix schools plagued by crumbling ceilings, leaky roofs, broken drinking fountains, and non-functioning toilets? Were tablets loaded with curriculum "textbooks" (able to leave the building to go home with students) or were they "fixtures" that stayed in the classroom minus any curriculum, and therefore a legitimate part of a facilities revamp? Is using 25-year bonds to pay for iPads with a 3-5 year useful lifespan a wise financial decision?

Stuart Magruder called attention to the fact that LAUSD had planned the effort poorly, did not sufficiently collaborate with teachers who have to integrate the devices into the classroom, and paid top dollar for an old, legacy version of the iPad. Due to his advocacy, the District renegotiated with Apple to get the current version, the iPad Air.

Why was there no use agreement so families could understand what they would be liable for if the iPad was damaged, lost, stolen, or hacked? Did parents understand what students would be using tablets for? Were teachers ever consulted to see how and what they would use technology for in the classroom, or given any training to integrate with the iPad purchases?

Debate rages on as to whether a computer is even needed for all classwork, or whether the ed tech gold rush to help school districts with upgrades is good for the bottom lines of hardware/software companies, or truly about teaching kids digital literacy.

With a billion dollars at stake, this spring many Angelenos turned to the city's Neighborhood Councils to voice their dismay at what many have termed a "bait and switch." Almost a dozen Neighborhood Councils around the city have discussed resolutions urging the LAUSD school board to halt or rethink the iPad 1:1 program and focus bond funds on the $13 billion of needed repairs they were originally passed to address. At least four Neighborhood Councils have passed resolutions with more pending. Angry and frustrated Angelenos are petitioning the LAUSD school board to do its duty and approve the AIA's re-appointment of Magruder.

With many states still experiencing shortfalls in education budgets as a result of the five-year long Great Recession, the argument over whether tech upgrades associated with testing will continue to stir up school communities across the state and the nation, as parents and students press for the return of nurses, librarians, additional teachers and teachers' aides -- and districts tasked with giving computer-based CCSS tests are pulled in another direction.

This piece originally appeared on K12NewsNetwork.com, where you can see examples of the Neighborhood Council resolutions urging LAUSD to re-focus the bond funds on much-needed repairs that voters initially voted to support.